Mental health is a concern in rural areas as farmers cope with stress and uncertainty due to economic and environmental conditions. Often there are no mental-health providers in rural communities.

We know it’s a problem in the population and we know access to mental-health care is not always available in rural areas. In a recent study as much as 60 percent of young farmers and ranchers reported at least mild symptoms of depression; 70 percent reported at least mild symptoms of anxiety.

The Marshfield Clinic Research Institute in central Wisconsin is an eight-hour course that trains people to provide assistance to those suffering from mental-health issues. The program aims to reduce stigma. It offers a five-step action plan to assess a problem, provide recommendations and de-escalate a crisis situation.

We questioned who should deliver the information to farmers. We knew from a previous study that farmers want to receive agricultural health and safety information from people like bankers, Extension personnel, insurance agents and firefighters -- people who have a good understanding of risk.

But those results might not transfer to mental-health information. Mental-health safety is a totally different topic. It’s still stigmatized in the community. We weren’t comfortable assuming that the people they wanted to hear about tractor safety from were the same people they wanted to hear about stress management and mental health from.

A University of Illinois survey of 300 farmers in three counties in central Wisconsin asked respondents to indicate whom they wanted to receive information from and how they wanted it delivered. The researchers included both mental-health as well as ag-health and safety information in order to note any differences between the topics.

Researchers found respondents would be most receptive to receiving mental-health information from licensed medical providers as well as from spouses, family members and friends. They would be least receptive to receiving the information from attorneys, bankers and commodity groups. Respondents were overall much more open to receiving ag-health and safety information from any source including ag- and health-safety specialists, firefighters and Extension personnel.

The survey also found the preferred methods of delivery for both types of information are newspapers and magazines as well as face-to-face communication. Respondents were least likely to want information from social media, the internet and phone support lines.

Researchers were surprised to find respondents uninterested in the internet when it comes to mental-health information. There are many resources available online such as webinars and fact sheets, and even one-on-one internet communication such as a virtual therapist. The survey showed those methods may not be preferred or appropriate.

Farmers evidently want information face-to-face; they want it from their innermost circles. Equipping those people with as much information as possible to deal with the stress and subsequent mental-health issues of our farmers is important.

Marshfield Clinic Research Institute trainings have been offered in Wisconsin for families and friends of farmers. Understanding the reasons behind the survey responses is a topic of future studies, researchers say. It may point to ways to expand the network of people whom farmers trust to provide mental-health information to them.

We're planning to replicate the study in Illinois. We want to see if there’s a program that’s more manageable but achieves the same goals and can be distributed statewide.

Funding was provided by the Marshfield Clinic Research Institute. Visit www.marshfieldresearch.org for more information.

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Josie Rudolphi is an assistant professor of agricultural and biological engineering at the University of Illinois.