Just call Ted.
That's the advice psychologist Ted Matthews gives to farmers and officials at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.
A rural mental health counselor, Matthews works with farmers across Minnesota. The service is available at no cost thanks to funds from the Minnesota Legislature.
“Originally I was a crisis interventionist working for FEMA after the 1993 flood,” Matthews said. “A year into program, not one farmer had called. … We discovered that farmers don’t directly talk to people outside of the farming community. They have to trust you in order to talk to you.”
That experience led Matthews to work with farm business management directors at Minnesota state colleges, as well as clergy, Extension and ag lenders in reaching out to the farm community.
“I have yet to hear a farmer ever say, ‘hold on for a minute, I have to call my psychologist,’” Matthews said. “We need to take away the stigma. Just call Ted, don’t worry about any of that other stuff.”
Farming is a stressful occupation.
“You add to it things farmers have no control over like commodity prices, whether or not we're friends with China, what do you do with fact that there's too much milk, and that's where we are,” Matthews said.
Farming is a way of life and when farmers face losing that, it's a lot different than losing a job, Matthews said. Getting through losing the farm and going forward takes a lot of time, a couple of years or longer. Ninety-nine percent of the time, it's not the farmer's fault.
“Everything in farming is an educated guess,” Matthews said. “…You can guess wrong and it can cost you your farm. It doesn't make you a bad guy.”
Matthews is hopeful the Minnesota Legislature will provide funding this year so he can train more people to do what he does.
“There is a reason I'm the only person who does what I do in the country,” Matthews said.
“Our system is driven by money. In clinics, you sit down for a 45-minute appointment. They give you a diagnosis because insurance requires one. What about people who have a 5-minute question or a 10-minute question and do not need a diagnosis?”
Matthews gets farmers to focus on “what we can do.”
“We often look for that home run, that answer that is going fix everything,” he said. “... There may be no fix, but there is better. Five percent better does not sound very glamorous, but it may be the difference between farming and not farming next year.”
He takes the focus off “good guy, bad guy” scenarios and onto how to make things better. He also focuses on being nice.
“When people hear ‘be nice' the immediate thought is ‘to someone else,’” Matthews said. “But if you're not nice to yourself, how the heck are you going to be nice to anyone else? If you're nice to yourself, and you focus on taking care of yourself, you're better able to take care of other people.”
Matthews can be reached at https://www.farmcounseling.org/ or by calling 320-266-2390.