ROCKFORD, Ill. — While harvest is a time of year when attention is drawn to safety, mental health is a part of the total picture.
In agriculture, farm accidents rates go up when there is additional stress, said Bob Aherin, University of Illinois Urbana-
Champaign professor and safety specialist. Stress can come from low yields, low prices and rising debt loads.
“It is a high-stress occupation,” Aherin said.
As state funding for rural health care in Illinois has been cut over the years, some popular rural resources have disappeared.
Resources for farmers increased in the 1980s where there was dire need. At that time, high interest rates and other stresses pushed suicide and accident rates higher, Aherin said.
Some of those farm resource centers and programs developed then have diminished or disappeared, leaving farmers with fewer places to seek help nearby.
However, Aherin said efforts are being made to have health and medical programs available in rural areas. Among them is the Rural Medical Education (RMED) program at the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Rockford, Ill., a program designed to help medical students practice in small towns and rural areas where there is need.
These future doctors will be working closely with farmers and rural residents, said Dr. John Plescia, director of the RMED program.
Plescia is also a family doctor in the small northern Illinois community of Mt. Morris. He stressed how important it is for new rural doctors to know about resources available to them.
Often, a patient’s first access to mental health services is through the primary care doctor, and a person might have to visit a physician seven to eight times before treatment starts, said Laura Beavers, McLean County Health Department community outreach coordinator. That is a hardship or unlikely in rural areas, where there is less access to transportation.
Coordinated efforts in mental health and rural health care can make a difference. The Agri-Safe Network also calls for integration of behavioral health within primary care settings to improve mental health outcomes for the agricultural community.
Another key to success in health care for farmers is communication, said Carolyn Sheridan, clinical director at the AgriSafe Network at Iowa State University. She is also a grain farmer and said “finding a common language” is important for farmers and health care providers.
A farmer may be dealing with mental health concerns, and “we as health providers can’t guess,” she said.
Some issues, such as stress or depression, may come to the attention of a family doctor if there is a problem with another injury. These feelings might come up in a conversation about routine medical issues, Sheridan said.
Support groups are also important in rural areas, where farmers feel comfortable talking to others who can relate to them. In some cases, rural people form their own groups — at a coffee shop or an elevator, she said.