We need mental health awareness in Kansas agriculture community.

CJONLINE, Special to Gannett Kansas – As the secretary of the Kansas Department of Agriculture, I regularly talk with farmers, ranchers, agribusiness owners, and other stakeholders across the state.
Sadly, the issues of ag stress, mental health and even suicide have been at the forefront of many discussions over the past three years.

Even the strongest of individuals feel the pressure of forces that cause stress.
In agriculture, these forces are often unavoidable and inescapable, making stress an inherentaspect of the industry.

There are multiple causes for this pressure, from the financial strain and fluctuations ofcommodity market prices to unpredictable and destructive weather events. In addition,farmers and ranchers typically live and work on family-owned operations, which can meanadded stress when faced with financial struggles or farm transition to new generations.

Although many resources do exist to help Kansans who are struggling with their mental health, those resources aren’t always well known or used by the agriculture community. Often, the need to find help is hampered by the unfortunate stigma that exists regarding mental health.

To overcome this challenge, the Kansas Department of Agriculture worked with health advocates and ag partners to create a website in 2019 aimed directly at the Kansas ag community: KansasAgStress.org. This website serves as a clearinghouse of the services and resources that are currently available to assist Kansas farmers, ranchers, and their families, framed in a lens specifically for agriculture.

KansasAgStress.org features support options for every member of the family and for a wide scope of needs, including mental health providers, financial counseling, disaster assistance, and substance abuse counseling.

Providing this resource for Kansas’ agriculture community has been a priority for KDA under Governor Laura Kelly’s administration. Gov. Kelly has been a leading voice in promoting healthy families in Kansas, and her establishment of the Office of Rural Prosperity shows her dedication to rural families.
According to a report from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, suicides in rural Kansas happen at higher rates than in other parts of the state; the same report shows that Kansas workers in farm, forestry and fishing industries had higher suicide rates than the state average.

Clearly, the need for mental health awareness is great in the Kansas agriculture community, and this administration will continue to make it a priority.

During the Kansas Governor’s Summit on Agricultural Growth in August, KDA hosted a discussion on Ag Stress which produced an animated discussion about the critical nature of this issue. Participants highlighted weather, debt, family dynamics/succession, and isolation as key factors leading to tension and trauma for farmers and ranchers. The session inspired new opportunities to address the issue, and KDA continues to seek collaboration with ag partners across the state in that effort.

The next step for Kansas is a new statewide campaign which will begin in 2022, supported by a Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network State Departments of Agriculture grant. This campaign will lead the way as we work to destigmatize the concept of mental health and reduce suicides in the Kansas agriculture community.

Please stand with us as we continue to seek ways to be a positive resource for members of the Kansas agriculture family who are struggling during difficult times.

Mike Beam is the Kansas secretary of agriculture. Published 7:35 a.m. CT Dec. 3, 2021

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