HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania Capital Star is reporting… A new mental health helpline is now open for calls from Pennsylvania farmers and agriculture producers in crisis. Speaking to reporters Friday, Department of Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding and state Sen. Elder Vogel, R-Beaver, who chairs the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, announced the availability of a new, pilot mental health helpline, known as the AgriStress HelpLine for Pennsylvania, for those in the commonwealth’s agriculture industry. Redding said the helpline was “born out of concern for our farmers,” who live where they work and are at the mercy of markets, weather and other stressors that are “out of their control.”
“Our agricultural community faces unique challenges. Farmers often work alone, live where they work and encounter pressures of changing markets, unpredictable weather, business transitions and legacy,” Redding said Friday.
“We must be there to support them in times of need.” The helpline, Redding said, will serve a “critical” role in addressing the mental health needs of the commonwealth’s agriculture community by “connecting farmers to mental health resources and mental health professionals.” The helpline, which is being piloted in Pennsylvania, Texas and Wyoming, is fully funded for one year with a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Redding said, has “magnified” the importance of addressing mental health needs and barriers to access – such as the availability of broadband internet and access to telehealth services – for those who live in rural parts of Pennsylvania. A 2014 study conducted by University of Iowa researchers found that the suicide rate among the nation’s farmers and agricultural workers was higher than that of workers in other occupations over a 19-year period.