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The future of behavioral healthcare for farmers
Farm & Ranch Life
By Dr. Rosmann
 
Congressional approval of a new Farm Bill is still on hold as I write this in mid-April 2024. The delay is keeping farmers on edge, along with the people who administer USDA programs concerning crop insurance, supplemental nutrition programs, the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN), and other USDA responsibilities.
Farmers are the most important link in the food chain from producers to consumers, which makes it all the more important to help financially and emotionally distressed farmers manage their emotional well-being. That is the purpose of FRSAN.
Supporters of the new Farm Bill recognize that the suicide rate of financially and emotionally distressed farmers can be curtailed through several proven interventions, including community education, especially if the educational events are sponsored by farmer organizations.
The 2024 American Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmers and Ranchers National Conference, held in Omaha in March, exemplified farmer education about mental health during a plenary session in which three farmers candidly described their experiences with addiction, depression, and suicide, while I commented on their personal journeys.
Despite the session being held on a Sunday morning shortly after 8:00 a.m. on the first day of daylight saving time, conference officials said nearly every registrant attended the panel discussion about a difficult topic that farmers couldn’t talk about in the past. I spent the next three hours visiting with farmers who wanted to talk; I suspect the other presenters had similar experiences.
Besides community education, FRSAN: 1) enables agricultural states and communities to set up crisis services for distressed farmers to assist inquirers with referrals for such services as farm business planning, legal advice, and obtaining professional counseling from providers who understand the rigors of agriculture; 2) makes follow-up counseling available at little or no cost if their services aren’t covered by health insurance; 3) trains professionals who are already licensed counselors or students in agricultural behavioral health; 4) evaluates the effectiveness of program services and recommends how to improve them; and 5) supports research that is needed to advance the provision of mental health services to the agricultural population.
Delaying the new Farm Bill’s passage through Congress not only affects the FRSAN, it also delays implementation of the Farmers First Act, which supplements the FRSAN by providing training of Extension personnel and the staffs of USDA Farm Service Agencies, Natural Resources and Conservation Services, and several other USDA-funded services.
While all this is going on, there are several fortuitous happenings. Purdue University Press is publishing a new book: Meditations on Farming: The Agrarian Drive, Stress, and Mental Health, which I authored. Purdue University Press provided the following book description:
Unlike any other territorial species, humans have evolved to become agrarians. The unique drive of farmers to cultivate crops and undertake animal husbandry, their tenacious attachment to the land, and their stoic self-reliance are beneficial, but these same qualities also can lead to self-blame and heightened propensities for anxiety depression, and suicide. Meditations on Farming celebrates nature and agriculture, while tackling a very serious subject, the mental health of food producers. In this collection of essays and stories, Rosmann – a farmer, clinical psychologist, public speaker, policy advocate, professor, and syndicated columnist - traces the development of behavioral health management and other methods for improving the well-being of agricultural producers. Sometimes tragic, often funny, and always engaging, Meditations on Farming shares the insights gained over a lifetime devoted not only to understanding farmers, but to helping and advocating for them.
The book is expected to be available on Nov. 1, 2024, in bookstores and through online merchants.
I have already begun a sequel to Meditations on Farming, this one to be called Agricultural Behavioral Health. Because writing takes much time and concentration, I am reducing my Farm and Ranch Life articles to just occasional columns. I am also carefully selecting workshops and speaking opportunities.
Lastly, I want to share my family’s unusual experience of the total solar eclipse on April 8th. Our two children and four grandchildren traveled to Northwest Arkansas, where we set up our lawn chairs in a grassy field at Tyler State Park. Our nearest neighbors, about 100 feet away, were a mid-twentyish couple who had a powerful telescope. They invited everyone in our family to view the onset of the eclipse.
As twilight descended, the few already emerged cicadas quieted down. Cheers arose when the sun was completely obscured.
Just as the sun peeked aside the moon about three minutes later, the man with the telescope tapped his girlfriend on the shoulder, as she watched the eclipse through the telescope and checked out the brightest nearby planet, Venus. He got down on one knee and proposed marriage, offering her a ring.
The young lady helped him to his feet and they kissed, while a second cheer arose from everyone who realized what was taking place. It occurred to us that Venus is the Roman goddess of love.
Dr. Mike is a farmer and psychologist. His email address is: mike@agbehavioralhealth.com. 
5/7/2024