Department of Agriculture seeking funds for rural mental health hotline

Posted at 12:36 PM, Feb 21, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-21 13:36:14-05

WACO, Texas — Being a farmer or a rancher can come with many mental struggles that others might not completely understand.

"They are a very proud bunch, they're very self-reliant," Department of Agriculture's Commissioner Sid Miller said.

"They are reluctant to reach out and get help and talk to someone."

Commissioner Miller hopes to make getting help a little easier with their rural mental health hotline, AgriStress.

It was started just last year with a one-time federal grant, but now the department is seeking a recurring $500,000 each year from the state to keep it running.

"It sounds like a lot of money but it's not," Miller said.

"When you have a $32 billion surplus, it's not a lot of money but it provides a great service for the money we do spend on it,"

"We have so far talked 60 people out of committing suicide."

Miller said people living in rural communities face different troubles than their urban neighbors.

This can make it difficult to find therapists or people who understand, which is why this hotline is so important.

"What happens is these farmers, they might be seventh or eighth generation family on this family farm and they may have lost three crops in a row, there's no option at the bank, they just don't see any way out without setting off the family legacy," he said. "

It's an extreme amount of strain on them."

"All of our call staff have been educated about agriculture," Total Farmer Health Director Tara Haskins said.

"They receive extensive education about the factors that impact well-being in ag as well as a focus,"

"For the state of Texas, they get training on what is agriculture like in the state of Texas."

A lack of resources for the ag community is an issue not just in Texas., but all across the country.

In 2019, cattle rancher Jason Medows started an Ag State Of Mind podcast to have these difficult conversations.

"I wanted to be a resource for people to turn to whenever things are tough for them," Medows said.

"I had struggled myself and was doing all the things to be on the way to getting better and I felt kind of an obligation to help others."

He said living a rural lifestyle can get lonely and if you're struggling with your mental health, it's easy to focus on negative thoughts.

"That time spent alone in the truck or in the field, your thoughts can go to some pretty dark places," Medows said.

"Especially if you haven't trained your mind to mitigate those things."

With hundreds of thousands of listeners from all over the country, Medows hopes to show people they're not alone in their mental health struggles and offer guidance to move forward.

"The biggest thing is there's just so much out of your control, seeming like," he said.

"You put your faith in something and it doesn't pan out, that's hard to deal with,"

"It's hard to live with."

When life does get hard, there should be no shame in reaching out for help.

"With your feelings, I like to talk about it like a log in water," Medows said.

"You take a log and push it further and further in the water, the harder it's going to be to keep underwater, until all of a sudden, it explodes and it can be some really serious stuff."

"It's okay to ask for help," Haskins said.

"It's okay to be tough and rugged and do what you have to do, but it's also okay to reach out for help because someone might have a solution you didn't think about."

If you are a farmer or rancher in need of mental health help, you can call that hotline at 833-897-2474.