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Farm groups launch free stress management course

Following the December 2019 announcement of a new farm stress management online training course for employees and members of Farm Credit, Farm Bureau and Farmers Union, these organizations have supported the launch of a free online training available to the general public.

“These are especially difficult times for farmers and ranchers, but because three in five rural Americans live in areas without enough mental health care providers to adequately serve the population, help isn’t always readily available. The pandemic hasn’t made things any easier; social distancing requirements have limited in-person care, and many farmers have lost off-farm jobs that provided their health insurance. These circumstances have made the community-led mental health strategies taught in this online training all the more critical,” said Rob Larew, National Farmers Union president.

Developed by Michigan State University Extension (MSU Extension) and University of Illinois Extension (Illinois Extension), the course will help farmers, their families and neighbors identify and cope with stress. It provides participants the skills to understand the sources of stress, manage their own stress, learn the warning signs of stress and suicide, identify effective communication strategies, and connect farmers and ranchers with appropriate mental health and other resources.

The challenges of ongoing low commodity prices, trade wars and extreme weather events have dramatically affected farmers and ranchers for years. Add the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic disruptions and that stress multiplies. Stress among farmers and ranchers is felt throughout farm operations and seeps into cities and towns across the country.

“We have to break through with a message of hope and help,” said Zippy Duvall, American Farm Bureau Federation president. “Families don’t have to face today’s stresses and heavy burdens alone. This free online resource is a first step toward recognizing the signs and knowing what to do. We hope anyone who knows someone struggling will take advantage of this potential lifeline.”

This online course builds upon past training materials Michigan State University Extension developed beginning in 2016, and tailored for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency in 2019. Additional courses and specific training have since educated employees and members of Farm Credit, Farm Bureau and Farmers Union nationwide.

“Farm families across the country already faced low prices, disastrous weather, uncertain trade prospects, and then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. It’s a heavy load to carry. We hope farmers and their families and others in rural communities that are feeling stressed will take this free training and use the tools provided to get help coping with this unprecedented situation,” said Todd Van Hoose, Farm Credit Council President and CEO.

Anyone can register for the free, online training course. It is funded by a grant from Farm Credit and supported by MSU Extension and Illinois Extension.

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