In South Dakota today, about 30,000 adults and 9,000 kids live with serious mental health conditions. With nearly every family and every community impacted, it’s overloaded the system. As a result, too many are falling through the cracks.
Too often, there is a stigma surrounding mental health. While this is true across the board, it’s especially true when we talk about mental health among agriculture producers. That’s unfair. Life is tough, and when you feel like you’re playing a losing hand, depression or anxiety is more common than you may think.
In fact, a recent study conducted by Morning Consult found a strong majority of farmers said financial issues, farm problems, and fear of losing the farm impact their mental health. More than half of adults in rural communities say they are experiencing more mental health challenges than they were a year ago. The Farm Bureau lists stress, weather, the economy, isolation, and social stigma as other contributors to mental health challenges among ag producers.
As a lifelong farmer and rancher, I understand what it’s like to look over flooded fields and know that there’s nothing you can do except wait for the land to dry out. I know what it’s like to lose livestock and know that one storm can wipe out thousands of dollars of crops. I also understand the added pressure of trying to keep the family farm viable, feeling as though your entire family’s legacy is riding on your shoulders. It can all add up to a heavy burden of stress. Especially in a year like this where the weather is unpredictable and the markets are unstable.
And ag producers aren’t the only people who face mental health challenges every day. As I travel the state, I repeatedly hear from folks that we need more mental health services in our schools. This year, I worked with the Legislature to expand the number of system care coordinators. These professionals will work with our school systems to identify youth at risk for mental health crisis and connect families to needed services to prevent more costly interventions in the future.
I’ve also worked with the chief justice of the South Dakota Supreme Court to provide funding for a mental health court for Minnehaha County. This court will focus on clients with mental health needs to stabilize them with both treatment and medication so they can exit the justice system and contribute to their communities in meaningful ways.
If someone you know is struggling with their mental health, act now. If it’s an emergency, dial 911 immediately. If not, contact the Farmer Stress Hotline at 1-800-691-4336 or the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. These resources are completely confidential and open around the clock for help. Don’t wait to call. You don’t have to go through this alone. Together we can work to overcome this.