Karen Stallman keeps a file with ideas to help farmers struggling with mental health stress.
As program coordinator for the Farm Family Resource Initiative (FFRI), Stallman knows more can always be done. FFRI, which is managed by SIU School of Medicine’s Center for Rural Health and Social Service Development, has been gaining momentum since it was established with grant funding in 2019.
Its free helpline connects farmers throughout the state with mental health specialists in times of need. Averaging a handful of calls per month, the issues range from financial stresses to conflict and relationship troubles on the farm.
“We’re getting positive feedback, but we do want to keep it in front of people and let them know that it is available at no charge, and you can remain anonymous,” Stallman said. “If you just need somebody to talk to, they are there.”
Follow-up telehealth counseling sessions with SIU Medicine counselors are also offered. Up to six individual, couple or group sessions are available at no cost to the farmer or farm family member.
And late last fall, FFRI began offering a free monthly virtual suicide bereavement group
overseen by Bonnie Landwehr, a licensed clinical social worker and behavioral health program supervisor with SIU Medicine’s Department of Family and Community Medicine.
“Suicide among the rural population is higher than the general population,” said Stallman, who farms in southern Illinois with her husband. The idea for the group was planted after an Illinois farmer died by suicide and Stallman connected an SIU School of Medicine counselor with the late farmer’s county Farm Bureau. She also learned about a similar bereavement group in Minnesota that’s had success connecting with grieving farmers and their families.
“I just thought that’s something we could do here,” Stallman said. “And we had those discussions and Bonnie was willing to head that, and she’s got a strong background in suicide prevention. It’s something that we thought we’d try to see if it would benefit farm families.”
The group began meeting in November and has had a couple participants; Stallman said they’re continuing to spread the word about the free offering. For questions or to register, call 217-757-8115 or email email@example.com.
Looking to the year ahead, Stallman is excited to expand FFRI’s resources by organizing community forums for aging farmers and having a rural mental health summit in March.
“We’ve got lots of things planned. I’d like to see us connect more with rural faith leaders; that’s going to be a target audience that we’re going to focus on,” Stallman said, adding they’re always exploring ways to connect with farmers, including podcasts and webinars. An upcoming self-care series called “Harvest to a Healthier You: Wellness Strategies for Farm Families,” will also launch early this year on FFRI’s website.
“We identified the tough topics that we need to address: coping with loss, grieving, depression, alcohol abuse, farm legacy and divorce and its emotional toll on the farm family,” Stallman said, referring to issues the series will focus on.
“I know it’s very difficult to admit if you’re struggling or you need help, because there’s such a stigma with that. But we encourage people to use our resources,” Stallman said, adding the website is frequently updated. “And we would just encourage people to think about mental health as being physical health.
“Farmers are so good at taking care of their land and their equipment and their livestock, but oftentimes farmers don’t take care of themselves, and the farmer is really the most important asset on the farm.”
This story was distributed through a cooperative project between Illinois Farm Bureau and the Illinois Press Association. For more food and farming news, visit FarmWeekNow.com.