Many Wisconsin farming communities, farmers, family members and farmworkers face limited access to medical or mental-health information, services and treatment. Despite recent progress, barriers remain for those wanting to seek care and support services due to stigma associated with depression, anxiety, substance abuse or suicide risk.

Depressed farmgate prices and uncertainty in the past five years have created additional hardship and stress, said Joy Kirkpatrick, outreach specialist for the University of Wisconsin-Center for Dairy Profitability. The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded stress levels.

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection conducted in March a dairy-producer survey. About 10 percent of respondents said they felt the need to access mental-health services in the past year for themselves and-or a family member due to farming challenges.

To help people living and working in rural communities the UW-Division of Extension and the Southwestern Wisconsin Community Action Program are partnering with agencies, organizations and others. They’re providing education, resources and support to farmers, agricultural-service professionals, and mental-health and healthcare providers.

UW-Extension also provides online resources through the Resilient Farms, Families, Businesses and Communities Resource Center. Such focused efforts positioned the University of Wisconsin to leverage efforts for two newly funded projects.

Wisconsin part of assistance network

Extension educators at UW-Madison and UW-Platteville are partnering with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection’s Wisconsin Farm Center. They’re focusing on farm financial management and future planning through a newly funded multi-state project.

The Wisconsin team joins Extension services and other organizations in the Midwest. The North Central Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Center is supported through a Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

The University of Illinois and the University of Illinois-Extension is leading the 12-state collaborative. The group has been awarded $7.2 million to create and expand statewide access to financial, stress management, and mental-health resources for farmers and other stakeholders.

Wisconsin will receive more than $400,000 to provide education and support to Wisconsin farmers, agriculture-related businesses, and mental-health and healthcare providers.

The Wisconsin Farm Center will create farmer focus groups, and develop and implement mental-health provider training. It also will help with other activities focused on mental-health needs.

Wisconsin Partnership Program awards grant

A second grant was awarded in October 2020. The Wisconsin Partnership Program grant addresses the mental-health and medical needs of farmers, families and farmworkers in a five-county region of southwestern Wisconsin. The project is led by the Southwestern Wisconsin Community Action Program. The project is called “Addressing Stressors, Preventing Farmer Suicide: Social Connectedness and Health.”

The five-year $1-million grant will address mental-health needs, with a focus on reducing suicide risk. The project will support and empower rural residents to strengthen social connections and leverage educational efforts on farm diversification and financial stabilization.

The project is one of six grants funded by the Wisconsin Partnership Program at the UW-School of Medicine and Public Health through its Community Impact Grants program. Visit ncerme.org/farm-stress-management and med.wisc.edu/wisconsin-partnership-program/ and fyi.extension.wisc.edu/farmstress for more information.