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Growing Stress: Minnesota farmers face growing pressure, lack of mental health resources

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John Marshall John Marshall
Courtney Lawson Courtney Lawson
Matt McDevitt Matt McDevitt
LAKE CITY, Minn. (FOX 47) -

It's a growing issue for much of America: a lack of mental health care resources.

For farmers in rural areas, it's even worse as they face growing pressures and demanding work that never goes away. 

Experts say farmers aren't getting the help they need, but some people are starting to step in. 

Grape grower John Marshall has been in the business for more than four decades. 

He operates a vineyard as well as Lake Pepin Winery in Lake City. 

It's a tough job. 

"A lot of pressure on you. No doubt about it." 

There's always something to do, and the fruits of his labor are unpredictable, especially this time of year. 

"Days that we expect to be busy sometimes I'll put on extra people to handle a crowd that never shows," Marshall said. "Sometimes I have nobody here except myself because it was going to be a dead day but it wasn't a dead day. You just never know what's going to happen, what your sales are going to be like."

Farmers across the country are facing those same pressures and some are really feeling it. 

A University of Minnesota study last year found the suicide rate among farmers is higher than that of all American workers. 

"There's just not the same access to providers. And getting an appointment is often not in the community, so it becomes traveling somewhere, that travel time and people just a lot of times can't take that time away," explained Courtney Lawson, Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Southeast Minnesota. 

Minnesota's Department of Agriculture has taken note, last fall launching a 24/7 Farm and Rural Helpline staffed by Mental Health Experts. 

"They can just kind of give a call if they just need to talk about things," explained Matt McDevitt from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. "So it can be something on the more serious side, or it can be 'hey I don't feel great today and I need somebody to talk to.'"

It's also offering workshops this spring to help people recognize the signs of mental and emotional distress in farmers. 

"We've invited all kinds of different people from clergy, people who work in hospitals, people who come in contact with farmers like bankers and things like that and kind of the purpose of these is just to help these people understand, pick out things when people are stressed out," said McDevitt. 

While resources like these are popping up in Minnesota, sometimes the first step is the hardest: just asking for help. 

"A lot of times we think about, 'well you know if I'm asking for help or I notice my mental health isn't good, that means there's something wrong with me,'" said Lawson. 

"Now if I talk about it to anybody else it just sounds like bellyaching and that's boring so I don't do that," said Marshall. 

But with new resources like these, experts hope we can make taking that first step easier, to remove the stigma on mental health, and lend farmers a helping hand. 

The number for the Farm and Rural Helpline is 833-600-2670. 

The Department of Agriculture still has two more workshops on mental health for farmers scheduled during March.  

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