Minnesota Department of Agriculture makes it easier for farmers to access mental health support

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture is expanding access to its Farm and Rural Helpline. Beginning this week, farmers can text or email for help in addition to calling.

The line provides confidential support 24 hours a day.

“They can find people that will help them through some of the emotional support that they need, in terms of challenging emotions, or conflicts, or feeling stuck,” said Meg Moynihan, a senior advisor at the Department of Agriculture. “If there are specific issues they’re struggling with — we find commonly those are business, financial or legal struggles — we have specialists who can help them find the type of assistance they need in that area as well.”

Moynihan told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS they added text and email options in response to the growing number of farmers seeking help.

Visits to the state’s Coping with Farm & Rural Stress website surpassed 5,000 in the first six months of 2020. It’s a huge increase from the 1,600 visits in the first six months of 2019, according to Moynihan.

In addition, calls to the helpline increased year to year.

“So if we provide these new alternatives will that open that up? And will we be able to reach and serve people that haven’t called or reached out to us before?” said Moynihan.

This comes during a challenging time for farmers as the COVID-19 pandemic adds stress.

“In terms of volatile pricing and uncertainty of markets, we saw some of the demand for certain products and certain supply chains dry up,” she said.

She told KSTP they don’t know whether the increase in site visits is connected to the pandemic or if more mental health awareness is encouraging farmers to reach out.

Moynihan said over the last 20 years, they have been dealing with unstable markets, low prices and unpredictable weather.

“Changes to the dynamic of how agriculture looks on our landscape,” she said. “Decreases in the number of farmers, more isolation on farms, some drain from rural communities so the fabric of social life that supports families is sometimes a challenge.”

Farmers’ struggles with mental health increase amid pandemic

About two and a half years ago, Matthew Adrian hit a crisis point. He is a farmer in southwest Minnesota.

“I was making comments to my wife saying many times that I was worth more dead than alive, I don’t know how we’re going to pay for things,” he said.

Adrian told us the seed business he was building was taken out from under him in 2017, during the holidays and right before his daughter was born.

“2018 and 2019 farming-wise were horrible years for us,” he said. “The markets had collapsed, the weather was not cooperating at all for us so I kind of had all of these things that were piling on top of each other. It was kind of the recipe for disaster.”

Adrian said his wife Michelle intervened. He changed his diet with her help, found an outlet in exercise, and leaned on family and friends for support.

He now shares his story on social media, hoping to encourage others who are struggling with depression.

“It’s okay to not be okay,” he said. “In agriculture, as farmers we’re kind of taught don’t talk about your feelings, don’t share, just box it up and put it off to the side. It was kind of changing my mindset that helped with that.”

He’s applauding the Department of Agriculture for making support even easier to access through text and email.

“I know with ag right now, it’s been really tough and a lot of farmers are struggling,” said Adrian.

But he wants others to know there is hope.

“Even though sometimes it doesn’t feel like it, you do matter to somebody else and there are people that do care about you,” he said.

The Department of Agriculture said the Helpline is also an option for family and friends who are worried about a loved one.

Here’s how to reach the Helpline:

  • Phone (toll-free): 833-600-2670
  • Text: FARMSTRESS to 898211
  • Email: farmstress@state.mn.us

For the Department of Agriculture’s Coping with Farm & Rural Stress website, click here.

For the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, call 1-800-273-8255 (24 hours a day). Throughout Minnesota for help call **CRISIS (**274747) Crisis Text Line is available for free, 24/7 by texting MN to 741741.

For more resources visit the NAMI Minnesota website, click here.