EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second story of a three-part series on how Lewis & Clark Behavioral Health Services (LCBHS) is expanding the mental health safety net in Yankton County to better serve mental health needs.
Thanks to a new local program, a farmer-turned-clinical-psychologist is helping farmers and rural families in crisis.
David Dracy, Ph.D., is the main contact and the service provider for Yankton’s LCBHS Rural Behavioral Health Crisis Outreach program, started up earlier this year.
Through the program, crisis services are available 24/7 at no cost for up to three individual appointments.
“The state has been very helpful in giving us ag-crisis support, so folks are able to come in and get free services at least for a few sessions and some treatments,” Dracy said. “When you’re hard up and maybe you’ve given up your insurance, the last thing you want to do is spend some money to talk to somebody.”
Given the wet weather the region has been experiencing over the last year, resulting in two presidential disaster declarations in 2019, many are aware that farmers are being hit hard by the weather, but according to Dracy there is more to it.
“Actually, it’s been coming for a couple of years,” he said, “because of grain prices and other things.”
Dracy farmed for 13 years before switching careers and becoming a psychologist.
“I am about a fourth-generation farmer on both sides of my family, and I still own a farm up in Beadle County,” Dracy said. “I have a new son-in-law who is attempting to start farming, so that keeps me pretty informed and the guy that rents my property is a big dairy farmer, so that helps me keep abreast of what’s going on.”
Also, his best friends are still farmers, he said.
On launching the program, Dracy took the time to travel throughout the seven-county area served by LCBHS — including Bon Homme, Charles Mix, Clay, Douglas, Hutchinson, Union and Yankton counties — trying to connect with the ag communities there.
“I’ve talked to all the bankers and credit unions, seed dealers and fertilizer dealers, and everybody that I can in ag business, and I’ve handed out the brochures to make sure people know that they are not alone and that we care about them and are aware of the need,” Dracy said. “I am hoping that helps, so people know me.”
A training session provided by the South Dakota State University (SDSU) Extension Office that focused on rural behavioral health was also an eye opener in its discussion on spotting signs of struggle or depression in rural communities.
“Like, maybe somebody is over-pasturing their ground because they don’t have enough money to rent the extra 40 acres that they needed for grass,” Dracy said. “I’ve talked to some farmers who said, ‘This year, we didn’t ‘preg test’ the cattle because it just costs extra money, and I don’t know what’s going to happen.’”
Pregnancy testing the cows is good farming practice, but some farmers are willing to take the risk involved with not paying a veterinarian to come to the farm and take care of it, he said.
“The bankers are saying that some of the farmers are not keeping up their health insurance and life insurance because those are expenses for things they don’t expect they are ever going to need,” he said. “The problem, is things snowball and then, we get into trouble.”
Farmers who can’t pay their bills could eventually find themselves unable to keep their business going.
“If you can’t pay your bills, then you feel guilty because you are letting down not only the guy you are doing business with, but he’s also your neighbor and your church member and friend,” Dracy said. “All of us, all we really have is our reputation. We get worried that our reputation will go bad.”
Convincing people who are in trouble that others can be understanding and forgiving is always difficult, he said.
“The farmers I’ve been seeing now are hard-working folks,” Dracy said. “They just got started at difficult times, and they are afraid that if something happens, like going through bankruptcy, then everybody in the community will say, ‘You’re a terrible person.’”
The hard thing about farmers — or anybody — is that they are proud people and they sometimes won’t admit that they are struggling, he said.
So far, about five people have approached Dracy under the new program, and he said they have been pleasantly surprised.
“One thing that they’ve been surprised about, in general, is that they don’t mind counseling, and they’ve appreciated that I have a farm background,” he said. “Also I know a little bit about set-aside acres; I know a little bit about the Farm Program; and I also know a little bit about the farm culture and how hard it is for farmers to not be doing well, unable to contribute when they are working very hard.”
He said he has also he has found himself working with farmers and their spouses, both individually and as couples.
“It’s not always easy to become a farm wife, he said. “Also, men just aren’t the best at communicating stuff — and farmers, maybe even a little more so.”
Dracy believes that farm families are worried about the future as they try to plan what they will do in the spring.
“The biggest thing is that people feel that they are alone, and they’re not alone,” he said. “I think family members and community members are beginning to understand that they need to band together and get some support.”
Follow @CoraVanOlson on Twitter.