Mon, 26 Sep 2022 08:36:34 CDT
September is Suicide Awareness Month in Oklahoma. Farm Director, KC Sheperd, had the chance to visit with Brent Brewer, who serves on the American Farmers and Ranchers/Oklahoma Farmers Union Farm Stress Management Team. Brewer talks about ways to check on one’s personal mental health, and that of others, and how to reach out for help.
As a member of the Farm Stress Management team, Brewer is trained on how to identify, understand, and respond to signs of stress and suicide and how to teach others to do the same.
In the last five years, Brewer said rural suicide has increased by almost 30 percent.
“There are a lot of things that have probably contributed to this, no doubt, the fact that farming in rural settings has become tougher due to the fact of the input cost,” Brewer said.
Other factors that can contribute to the declining mental health rate in the ag industry include low availability of labor, weather conditions, and age. All of these factors combined, Brewer said, have made the perfect storm.
“We are in a political arena right now that is really tough, and it seems we are just pounded by news of our politicians every day and the situation of the wars going around the world,” Brewer said. “All things that add to anxiety and constant pressure on us.”
Brewer said it is important to reach out and talk to those close to you rather than keeping things to yourself, like many of those in the agriculture industry tend to do.
“In the last year, some of our insurances like Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Oklahoma have recognized that mental health is an actual problem,” Brewer said. “I am working very closely with Oklahoma State University Tulsa Medicine and their psychiatry department to realize that we do have a problem in rural America with agricultural people that are out there.”
Many times, Brewer said, individuals in the ag industry may be as far at 150 miles from the nearest mental hospital and become a victim of stress due to the fact that they are not getting enough sleep and not eating right. Over time, Brewer said, this causes many to fall into a situation where they don’t know where they can turn for help.
“You shouldn’t be ashamed if you do have mental health problems to seek out help,” Brewer said. “It is just not a thing that you need to take on by yourself when there are people out there, professionals, that can help you.”
Brewer mentioned a few ways to keep an eye on your own mental health such as noticing if you have not been able to sleep well at night for an extended period of time.
“When you don’t sleep well at night, that is probably the first and foremost sign that you are under stress,” Brewer said. “You might have tinnitus which is a continual ringing in the ears. That can be solved pretty simply by playing the television low at night or something so that your brain can rest and allow you to get the rest that you need.”
Brewer said making sure to eat healthy foods, see sunshine and exercise frequently are great ways to maintain a healthy life.
“One out of five people in their life have contemplated thinking how they would take their life by suicide,” Brewer said. “A lot of people keep that to themselves. Men are more likely to go ahead and do it and women are more likely to threaten it.”
It is important to pay attention to the behaviors of those around you, Brewer said, and to check in and ask them how they are doing if something seems off.
“They may unload to you,” Brewer said. “Certain people, when you ask them if they are doing okay if they start unloading on you, they’ve got a problem. And don’t try to stop them, just go ahead, and listen and when you get done, you evaluate them and if you think it’s a one-time deal, check back with them later. If you think they need immediate help, a call, or help, don’t be afraid to call the new 988 Hotline that we have just instilled. That goes to farm aid and that comes directly to me on my phone, and I will call that person and ask if I can assist them in getting their life and getting them some help.”
The 988-hotline number is a great tool, Brewer said, because in the past when someone might have called 911 instead, they may have been connected to a firefighter or a police officer who may not have the correct training to talk to someone in their state. With the 988 Hotline number, Brewer said, producers can visit with someone who understands what they may be going through.
“Nobody can talk to a farmer like a farmer,” Brewer said.
Working in the agriculture industry is a blessing, but it also can have its years of trials that can yield extreme stress. In times like these, it is important to know it is okay to reach out for help.
Farm Aid Hotline number: 800-327-6242
National Hotline number: 800-273-8255