Illinois Expands Farmers' Access to Mental-Health Services
Friday, September 1, 2023
Research shows that farmers die from suicide at a rate twice as high as the rest of the population, and Illinois officials are taking steps to help reverse that trend.
The Illinois Department of Agriculture, in coordination with the Illinois FFA Foundation and the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, will expand the state's Farm Family Resource Initiative to all 102 counties.
Illinois Ag Department Director Jerry Costello said the program will bring much-needed mental-health services to rural parts of the state.
"I think we're all aware that farmers have risks that maybe a lot of other occupations don't have," he said. "Some of them are obviously very uncontrolled. And unfortunately, farmers' suicide rates are exponentially higher."
He said the program, which will be funded by a series of state grants, is aimed at breaking down the stigma of accessing mental-health services in agricultural communities.
Costello said a unique feature of the program will be the participation of local branches of the Future Farmers of America, who'll spread the word among their families and neighbors. The program will fund up to 20 grants for $1,000 each year to support FFA chapters implementing local initiatives to encourage access to mental-health resources.
"We were trying to come up with a way to get the awareness out that this program exists, but also to do it through kids," he said. "They don't quite have the stigma of asking for help that a lot of people, especially in rural communities, do."
Costello said people who live in small towns are less likely to go to a therapist's office or clinic, so the program will be available through a toll-free hotline, by text and email, as well as telehealth. He said the goal is to reach as many farmers and their families who need the help.
"What we've got to do a good job of is making sure that people in rural communities are aware that this service is offered," he said, "and making sure that they are 100% confident and know that this is confidential in every way, shape, or form."
To reach the program, call 1-833-FARM-SOS (1-833-327-6767).
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