BROOKINGS — SDSU Extension, the South Dakota Department of Social Services (DSS), and the South Dakota Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources (DANR) have launched an Agriculture Behavioral Health Voucher program.
The purpose of this voucher program is to provide access to free counseling services for farmers, ranchers and their family members.
“Months of drought in addition to low prices for our cattle producers have taken a toll on farmers and ranchers across the state,” said DANR Secretary Hunter Roberts. “I strongly encourage our producers to take advantage of these resources and reach out for assistance. No one should wait to be in crisis before seeking the care they need.”
“The suicide rate for those that work in agriculture is 1.5 times higher than those that work in other occupations,” said Andrea Bjornestad, SDSU Extension Mental Health Specialist. “My most recent study of producers in the region suggested that a little over one in every four farmers reported mild to severe depressive symptoms and a little over one in every four farmers reported mild to severe anxiety symptoms. When mental health begins to decline, safety can also become an issue.”
According to Bjornestad, there are multiple barriers to entry that exist that can hinder producers seeking mental health care. These barriers include costs, distance to services and access to mental health providers.
The goal of the Agricultural Behavioral Health Voucher program is to remove such barriers to allow greater access to mental health services in the agricultural community by reducing the cost of such services and providing access to telemental health services through the program.
“It seems as if there is a belief that only those who are suffering from a mental illness seek counseling services, but that is not true,” said Bjornestad. “In addition to improving depressive and anxiety symptoms, counseling can be helpful for other concerns such as relationship issues, and to improve family communication, discuss generational transitions in farming, decrease stress, learn effective coping skills and manage grief or loss.”
“Anyone can experience stress or feelings that we aren’t sure how to handle, but you don’t have to go through it alone,” said Department of Social Services Cabinet Secretary Laurie Gill. “There is support available throughout South Dakota.”
To access Agriculture Behavioral Health Vouchers, producers and their immediate family members can call 2-1-1, the Avera Farm and Rural Stress Health Hotline (1-800-691-4336), or Andrea Bjornestad, SDSU Extension Mental Health Specialist.
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