FLORIDA, USA — In 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found farmer suicides were 3-5 times higher than the national average. The financial stress of maintaining a farm and lacking access to therapy in rural communities was cited as some of the main contributors to the startling statistic.
That's what led Florida's Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) to seek and eventually be awarded a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to create a new farm stress awareness and reduction initiative in the state. Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried made the announcement on Wednesday.
The program will launch an outreach campaign to raise awareness about mental health and promote existing services for rural communities across Florida, the department said in a news release. FDACS says it will also partner with UF/IFAS to train public school agriculture teachers to recognize signs of farm stress in their communities. New telehealth sites will also be expanded to rural counties in order to better connect farmers with mental health services.
"Florida’s farmers and producers have had to contend with a number of difficult issues over the past few years, from pandemic supply chain disruptions to natural disasters and unfair trade practices, which is why this new initiative is so important," Commissioner Fried said. "All of these stressors can create significant mental health challenges for even the most self-reliant farmers. It’s crucial that our farming communities know that they aren’t alone in dealing with these issues and that there are places they can turn to help."
According to FDACS, nearly half of farmers say it is difficult to access therapy in their communities. Nine in ten farmers also cite financial issues, business issues and fear of losing their farms as mental health stressors. All these statistics were documented prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the state says.
FDACS says the pandemic only isolated farmers further and increased financial concerns due to disruptions in supply chains.