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PA one of three states piloting a mental health helpline for farmers, agriculture producers

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by Cassie Miller, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
February 11, 2022

A new mental health helpline is now open for calls from Pennsylvania farmers and agriculture producers in crisis. 

Speaking to reporters Friday, Department of Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding and state Sen. Elder Vogel, R-Beaver, who chairs the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, announced the availability of a new, pilot mental health helpline, known as the AgriStress HelpLine for Pennsylvania, for those in the commonwealth’s agriculture industry. 

Redding said the helpline was “born out of concern for our farmers,” who live where they work and are at the mercy of markets, weather and other stressors that are “out of their control.”

“Our agricultural community faces unique challenges. Farmers often work alone, live where they work and encounter pressures of changing markets, unpredictable weather, business transitions and legacy,” Redding said Friday. “We must be there to support them in times of need.”

The helpline, Redding said, will serve a “critical” role in addressing the mental health needs of the commonwealth’s agriculture community by “connecting farmers to mental health resources and mental health professionals.”

The helpline, which is being piloted in Pennsylvania, Texas and Wyoming, is fully funded for one year with a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Redding said, has “magnified” the importance of addressing mental health needs and barriers to access – such as the availability of broadband internet and access to telehealth services – for those who live in rural parts of Pennsylvania.

A 2014 study conducted by University of Iowa researchers found that the suicide rate among the nation’s farmers and agricultural workers was higher than that of workers in other occupations over a 19-year period.

Vogel, a fourth generation farmer, said that “farming is never an easy occupation – physically or mentally.”

“While farmers are traditionally less likely to seek professional help, it is vital that we connect those in the agricultural community with the necessary resources for them to obtain the help they need when dealing with a mental health issue,” Vogel said. “The opening of the AgriStress HelpLine is a major step forward as we seek to provide access to care to a vital population that so often will bear their burdens in silence.”

To ensure the unique circumstances faced by farmers and agricultural workers is recognized and understood, the mental health professionals taking helpline calls receive additional, agriculture-specific training, AgriStress officials said Friday. 

The AgriStress HelpLine for Pennsylvania is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Farmers can call 833-897-AGRI (2474) to speak to a healthcare professional.

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

Cassie Miller is Associate Editor at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where this story first appeared.