Monica Kramer McConkey refers to herself as a Ted Matthews clone, but “without the beard.”
It’s a humorous way to compare herself – a younger, tall and lanky licensed professional counselor – with Ted Matthews – a mental health practitioner with salt and pepper hair and over 40 years of experience helping farmers through their toughest battles.
What they have in common is a strong desire to help Minnesota’s farmers who have stress affecting their mental health. Both also have a goal of teaching the farming community how to develop mental fitness.
That’s what Matthews has been doing for many years, and he’s glad McConkey joined him Oct. 1 as Minnesota’s second subsidized counselor dedicated to helping farmers and farm families.
Matthews works out of Hutchinson, and McConkey works out of Detroit Lakes. One of them can reach farmers that are at their wits’ end within hours when needed.
McConkey has told the story of her own family. In the 1980s, her dad reached out when things got too difficult on the farm, but there wasn’t much help available. He persevered anyway and found people he could talk with to help him get through that time.
McConkey’s parents, brother and nephew continue to farm in northern Minnesota.
“I couldn’t do this job without the path that I’ve had growing up on the farm. We were very involved and had the celebrations and joys as well as the heartbreak and the stress and the worry,” she said. “You bring all of that with you, and you become part of the service that you offer.”
A child in the 1980s, McConkey was very aware of the stress her parents were going through. She understood how the weather could wipe out the year’s crops, and she often wondered how they were going to make it.
She remembers the day she walked into the house, and her mom was crying because they didn’t get their operating loan. She remembers worrying about what was going to happen to her animals and where they would live. Through those types of experiences, she wants to be certain that farm children and their teachers have access to mental health support as well their farming parents.
“It takes a while for people who are not from an ag background to understand what’s going on,” McConkey said. “They see the assets – the equipment, the trucks, the land, the farm, whatever. What they don’t understand is we don’t have cash laying around, so my kid can’t be in hockey this year, or whatever the case may be. So that’s a big education piece.”
She reminds all farmers and farm families to be sure their basic needs are taken care of – like eating, drinking water, getting enough sleep, exercising and staying clean.
Simply sitting up straight and taking deep breaths can reduce emotional and physical stress.
McConkey encourages those living in the rural community to be aware when someone or themselves may need mental health help. There may not be many signs that someone is having difficulty coping.
Minnesota Department of Agriculture also offers the Minnesota Farm and Rural Helpline. This free, confidential service is answered 24/7 at 833-600-0270 extension 1.