Mental health is an often overlooked challenge farmers face nationwide. Farmland loss and land access issues, rising production costs, plummeting farm incomes, climate change, and, most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic are contributing to a mental health crisis within the farming community. Suicide rates amongst farmers and ranchers are well above the national average while mental health services are less available and accessible in rural areas.
In the 2018 Farm Bill, the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN) was established to develop a service provider network that assists farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural workers with stress management and offers a pathway for improving mental health awareness and access for farmers and their families. The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), a branch of USDA, awarded funds to four regional entities to help launch the network. The Northeast funds were granted to the National Young Farmers Coalition, Farm Aid, Vermont Farm First, University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust, and Migrant Clinicians Network.
FRSAN-NE aims to improve behavioral health awareness, literacy, access, and outcomes for farmers, ranchers, and farmworkers in the Northeast. In particular, this project includes a focus on service providers working with migrant farmworkers, young farmers, and socially disadvantaged farmers, in particular, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) farmers because, in addition to the stressors described above, they face unique challenges with more limited access to services.
We understand that farm stress is often situational, driven by specific financial, legal, or production circumstances that can threaten farm businesses. Therefore, we realize that simply increasing the number of mental health professionals available in the farming community is not enough to address the underlying factors that can contribute to mental health challenges. We seek to address farm mental health by integrating behavioral health services with farm financial, legal, and/or disaster assistance. We believe this approach is more likely to achieve long-term wellbeing and that it is one that allows farmers to emerge from crisis better equipped with new farm management skills and tools, more robust support networks, and effective stress management techniques.
As of December 2020, the FRSAN-NE Network consists of approximately 65 individuals from 35 organizations: