Hot line helps farm­ers cope with drought

Con­ceal­ers on call in Ten­nessee

The Covington News - - LOCAL NEWS - By Kristin M. Hall

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Amer­i­can farm­ers no longer have to sto­ically face all that na­ture and the econ­omy can dish out.

At least eight states of­fer free men­tal health hot lines to as­sist farm­ers and pro­duc­ers through dif­fi­cult patches. Dur­ing times of ex­cep­tional drought, such as the one that has cov­ered the South­east this year, the hot lines re­port a jump in calls from farm­ers need­ing emo­tional coun­sel­ing and stress man­age­ment.

The con­fi­den­tial hot lines of­fer a variety of re­sources such as vouch­ers for ther­apy ses­sions, re­fer­rals to men­tal health providers and trained fi­nan­cial ex­perts who can an­a­lyze a farmer’s bills. Some hot lines are op­er­ated by non­profit or re­li­gious or­ga­ni­za­tions while oth­ers, like Ten­nessee’s, are a part of a univer­sity’s agri­cul­ture de­part­ment.

Agri­well­ness Inc., a non­profit de­voted to the be­hav­ioral health of peo­ple in agri­cul­ture, co­or­di­nates hot lines in Iowa, Kansas, Min­nesota, Ne­braska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wis­con­sin and gets an av­er­age of 12,000 to 14,000 calls a year.

Michael R. Ros­mann, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Agri­well­ness, said drought is es­pe­cially tough on farm­ers and pro­duc­ers be­cause its ef­fects last over more than one sea­son.

“It wears down peo­ple’s spir­its. You don’t know when it’s go­ing to end and what you’re go­ing to do about it,” Ros­mann said.

Ge­or­gia Gov. Sonny Per­due’s de­ci­sion to lead a state vigil pray- ing for pre­cip­i­ta­tion may have been de­rided, but Ros­mann thinks the ges­ture brought im­mense com­fort to many peo­ple.

Richard Jame­son, a 53-yearold farmer in west­ern Ten­nessee, watched his cot­ton and soy­bean crops shrivel un­der sev­eral weeks of ex­treme heat and a pro­longed drought this year. He says it would have been harder to weather the cri­sis if he hadn’t de­cided on his own to seek ther­apy about nine years ago.

“I was wak­ing up at 4 a.m. ev­ery day with my heart pound­ing,” Jame­son said. “I had got­ten to a point in my life when I knew I needed help.”

Jame­son says his reg­u­lar vis­its to a ther­a­pist in Mem­phis, about 50 miles from his Hay­wood County farm, help him re­al­ize that he isn’t alone in deal­ing with de­pres­sion.

“Farm­ers of­ten work by them- selves. That near iso­la­tion can re­ally ex­ac­er­bate feel­ings of worth­less­ness, anx­i­ety or de­pres­sion,” Jame­son said. “We feel like no­body in the his­tory of mankind has any idea what we go through.”

Rural farm­ing fam­i­lies face sev­eral ob­sta­cles to get­ting men­tal and emo­tional help in times of cri­sis, says Kathy Bosch, ex­ten­sion spe­cial­ist at the Univer­sity of Ne­braska-Lin­coln. Bosch has stud­ied Ne­braska pan­han­dle farm­ers and ranch­ers who are now in their eighth year of drought.

“There has been a stigma at­tached to ask­ing for help,” Bosch said. “Some of them were very leery or cau­tious to ask for help.”

The Univer­sity of Ten­nessee’s MAN­AGE hot line has reached an es­ti­mated 15,000 farm fam­i­lies since 1986.

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