State expands farmer mental health initiatives

Illinois Department of Agriculture Director Jerry Costello II

Illinois Department of Agriculture Director Jerry Costello II this week announced a grant award of $500,000 to increase farmer stress-related mental health initiatives statewide.

The department applied for the grant in coordination with Southern Illinois University Medicine Center for Rural Health and Social Service Development and University of Illinois Extension.

In 2019, the Farm Family Resource Initiative (FFRI) was established in Illinois to specifically address mental health needs of the farming and agricultural communities. The FFRI Committee consists of members from government, commodity groups, academic institutions, healthcare and industry.

Led by Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, the FFRI launched a six-county pilot program to provide resources to Christian, Logan, Macon, Macoupin, Morgan and Sangamon counties through a telephone hotline connecting farmers with mental health resources and providers. This grant will allow for the expansion of the pilot program to the entire state.

Additional plans for grant funding include:

  • Text and e-mail communication options (in addition to telephone hotline),
  • increased marketing of helpline,
  • voucher program for professional behavioral health services,
  • agricultural literacy training for mental health providers to increase knowledge of agricultural community, and
  • further Mental Health First Aid trainings for agricultural community members.

“As governor, I’ve sought to make Illinois a state where mental health care should not and cannot be treated as a secondary healthcare service,” said Gov. J.B. Pritzker. “That includes tailoring mental health resources to better support our farmers and farm families, whose industry keeps everyone else afloat. I’m proud to expand our Farm Family Resource Initiative to all 102 of our counties to ensure our rural communities are getting the care they deserve.”

“Illinois is uniquely positioned with farmer mental health initiatives already in place,” said Costello. “This award allows programmatic expansion statewide tailored to the needs of the agricultural community.”

State Sen. Scott Bennett added, “Small farms are the core of our state’s economy, and farmers are on the front lines to provide food for our communities. The reality of this pandemic is that a new layer of stress has been put on farmers and farm families.”

This funding resulted from IDOA’s grant application for the “Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network” funded by the United States Department of Agriculture National Food and Agriculture (USDA NIFA). Funds are provided to State Departments of Agriculture to connect individuals who are engaged in farming, ranching, and other agriculture-related occupations to stress assistance programs.

The Farmer Assistance Helpline is available 24 hours a day 7 days a week at 1-833-FARM-SOS.