The Utah State University Extension has received $200,000 to invest in new mental health awareness programs for farmers, ranchers and other Utahns in rural parts of the state.
In a statement from USU released on Wednesday, the Western Region Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network Grant was the result of a partnership between USU Extension, 13 states and four territories. The U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture recently announced the grants as a way to support agricultural producers.
Tasha Killian, an assistant professor with USU Extension, said Washington State University took the lead in pursuing the grant. Killian said the $200,000 in funding to USU Extension was a sub-award in the overarching grant and will fund two specific curricula: mental health awareness and advocacy, and acceptance and commitment therapy.
Killian said acceptance and commitment therapy, or ACT, is backed by research and easily taught online, making for greater accessibility for those in a rural community. Killian said ACT skills can be developed by oneself and can help rural Utahns cope with some of the stresses that come with life.
“Especially with farm life,” Killian said. “There’s a huge disparity when it comes to available services in rural Utah.”
For Killian, bringing mental health resources to rural areas boils down to the three A’s: accessibility, availability and acceptance. Because of a lack of available and accessible resources, Killian said there is a higher rate of suicide completion in rural areas.
Additionally, Killian said, there needs to be acceptance of a problem for someone to seek help. Killian said conversations about mental health that are almost “dinnertime table talk” in metropolitan areas are nearly non-existent in rural areas.
“There’s just a huge stigma,” Killian said. “Those conversations don’t really happen in farming communities.”
USU’s Center for Persons with Disabilities in tandem with the Human Development and Family Services departments will help USU Extension formulate these courses. According to the press release, accessibility in education will come by way of informative online and in-person trainings to help fill “the gap on mental health education for the rural population.”
In addition to the development of the curriculum programs, partnering states will create a FarmAid helpline. The helpline functions similarly to national suicide hotlines, according to the press release, but includes information and resources specific to farmers, ranchers and rural populations.
“These programs will ensure that vulnerable agricultural producers and their families have more options for high-quality, affordable help close to home,” Killian in the press release.