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A new mental health hotline is focusing on providing support to farmers and ranchers


Anyone having a mental health crisis in the United States can dial 988 for help. But in five states, there's also a new pilot hotline that is specifically designed to try to help farmers and ranchers.

LINDA EMANUEL: I've often said it's a life that we love and hate at the same time.

SIMON: Linda Emanuel helps run her family's three-generation farm in Nebraska, and she says life on the farm can be uniquely demanding and as unpredictable as bad weather.

EMANUEL: It is defeating when you pour your life's blood, your time, your treasure into this life and something comes about either slowly or a major event, major flooding. Right now, we're experiencing an extreme drought, and you have no control over that.

SIMON: We're joined now by Tara Haskins of AgriSafe, a nonprofit group that helped launch the new hotline. Thank you so much for being with us.

TARA HASKINS: Oh, thank you so much.

SIMON: Linda Emanuel is a farmer and also a colleague of yours. What sort of things have people been bringing up when they call?

HASKINS: We get reports of all different types of issues that they're talking about on the line, things such as risk of losing the farm, high cost of things like fertilizer, gas, the cost of getting water to their farm, disasters, financial crunches due to market fluctuations. Even the challenges of running a family farm - those communications between one another can be pretty stressful sometimes.

SIMON: Well, help us understand that. I was very moved when Linda Emanuel talks about one month it's flooding, the next it's drought - forces over which we don't really, and certainly individual farmers, don't have any control.

HASKINS: Sure. And they live that life every day. You know, people working in agriculture have been suffering for a long time now. We know that agriculture is one of the top five occupations with some of the highest rates of death by suicide. And for this group of individuals where they have some of the greatest need for mental health services, we've got significant shortages in our nation, in our rural areas. And that's where these individuals live. That's where they produce, and that's where they raise their families.

SIMON: How does it help to have people on the other end who answer the calls who, I guess, know what to listen for, not just in terms of desperation maybe in somebody's voice and circumstances, but the whole distinct business of agriculture and farming?

HASKINS: These individuals need to connect with someone. And so when they hear those things in the call, it makes for that strong connection. I mean, it stands to reason that in order for you to empathize fully, you have to have some appreciation of what that lived experience is. And it builds confidence with the person on the other end.

SIMON: And how do you do that?

HASKINS: Well, our helpline call staff not only have an initial 300 hours of training, but they also do our farm response training, which is a very deep dive into the mental health factors that are impacting agriculture. And in addition to that training, they are also dedicated to doing ongoing quarterly professional training in additional agricultural topics that can impact mental health and well-being.

SIMON: Well, help us understand how somebody who knows farming can be particularly helpful on the other end of a call.

HASKINS: Well, one good example that I use all the time is that, you know, you can't tell a farmer or rancher to take two weeks off if they're under a lot of stress because those two weeks can make a big difference in the ability for them to run their farms. And these are individuals that are doing the bulk of the work. And so when they're away from the farm for any length of time, it really puts them in financial stress. And so that's a huge barrier for people to seek services or to seek help.

SIMON: What do you say to somebody who calls up and says, this drought is going to ruin us?

HASKINS: The key, important thing and what I think our call center does so well is they listen. Much of the stress that we endure, we feel isolated and alone. And so having someone on the other end that can do that is really important. The second thing is if someone is open to having resources or connections with potential resources that could help them with their issues, we have those available for them as well.

SIMON: I gather this program is now in five states - Pennsylvania, Texas, Missouri, Virginia and Wyoming. It could be useful in other states, too? You'd like to expand?

HASKINS: Absolutely. It is our goal that the AgriStress help line would be available across the nation because we believe that all farmers across the nation deserve this type of service - not only them, but their families as well.

SIMON: Tara Haskins runs mental health programming for the nonprofit AgriSafe. We also heard from Linda Emanuel, a community health director with AgriSafe. The hotline number for farmers and ranchers in Pennsylvania, Texas, Missouri, Virginia and Wyoming is 833-897-2474. Tara Haskins, thanks so much.

HASKINS: Thank you so much, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOMI AND JD BECK'S "SMILE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.