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Ag Mental Health: The Most Valuable Asset on any Farm are the People

Dr. Nick Weshinskey from Southern Illinois University School of Medicine educates ADM grain origination team members on how to recognize signs and symptoms of mental strain and guide farmer customers to find help.

ADM’s grain origination team works with farmers every day, with the goal of making their jobs easier when it comes to marketing grain and buying fertilizer. Even with outside support, the intense pressure of managing a farm, unpredictable weather patterns, seasonal deadlines, crazy markets and other factors can take a toll.

Recognizing the need to be more prepared to identify and respond to potential signs of mental or emotional strain in the farmers they serve, ADM has taken steps to help prepare their employees. With a passion for doing good, Paul Ruholl and Elizabeth Mitsdarffer from ADM’s Central Illinois grain origination team brought in Dr. Nick Weshinskey, a faculty member from SIU School of Medicine, to train up to 80 origination team members across multiple regions.

This episode of In The Driver’s Seat covers key areas of the recent ADM mental health webinar training series led by Dr. Weshinskey, including important tips and resources for struggling farmers and their loved ones.

Increase in Local Mental Health Programs for Farmers

Approximately 71% of young farmers and ranchers have anxiety and 53% battle depression, according to a January 2020 pilot study published by the Community Mental Health Journal. The respondents cited personal finances and time pressures as their greatest areas of distress.

When it comes to these stressors, ADM has resources to support farmers. ADM’s grain origination team is in the business of helping farmers market grain and buy fertilizer by creating personalized plans to achieve price targets and connect them to insurance offerings. They also educate farmers on how to protect against hazards that may threaten their production.

There is also concern about the growing suicide rate among farmers. Many Midwestern states are keeping a close watch on the numbers and have developed statewide or county programs to provide more support services to rural communities.

Farmers are constantly working to increase the value of their farm operation, but frequently face barriers out of their control and can sometimes forget what’s most important – their own value and life.

Dr. Weshinskey and other professionals who work in counseling and education know there’s a lot of work to be done to remedy this growing problem in the ag industry. He uses this analogy to remind farmers of their irreplaceable value:

“As a producer, you are the greatest piece of farm equipment you have and will ever have, and you have far more value than any machinery on your balance sheet. You need to take time to maintain yourself the same way that you would maintain your equipment. Invest in your health – physical, mental, spiritual – and in doing so, you might just find that you’re more productive.”

Helping Skills to Support A Farmer in Need

A main part of Dr. Weshinskey’s training for ADM’s origination team focused on skills they can use to build rapport, demonstrate empathy, and/or de-escalate tense situations. Below are four basic skills that can be used to support someone in crisis: 

  • Minimal Encourager – Use brief, supportive words or gestures that encourage someone to keep talking about their feelings and situation.
  • Silence – Be a good listener and provide people with space to think and talk. This can also give the listener an opportunity to reset the tone or pace of the conversation.
  • Normalizing Statements – Share similar feelings or experiences that may help combat the stigma someone may feel about receiving help and can offer a sense of hope.
  • Open-Ended Questions – Asking questions that encourage conversation and insight into how someone is feeling or doing in that moment.

Dr. Weshinskey pushed the ADM webinar participants to practice these steps and be mindful when using them, if needed, during a discussion with a producer.

A key takeaway for ADM’s Mitsdarffer was “opening her ears more” and really listening to her producers. She’s also started a more regular practice of checking in by text to show she cares.

For Ruholl, he now watches body language closer during producer meetings and invites a spouse or family member to join a follow-up meeting if he feels there may be an underlying concern with a customer.

Following the training with Dr. Weshinskey, ADM grain origination team members feel more prepared to identify and assist a producer, colleague, or another person when they are facing a low period, and many like Mitsdarffer and Ruholl are developing their own strategies to stay more in tune with customers on a regular basis. If needed, they’re also ready to direct producers to outside resources and support systems.

Mental Health Assistance and Resources

Along with resources from SIU, Dr. Weshinskey points to the well-designed Mental Health Assistance for Farmers and Agribusiness Leaders offered by the Illinois Department of Agriculture. The site offers a therapist locator, videos, links to other helpful websites and podcasts, national phone and text lines, and more.

Another resource he mentioned is Mental Health First Aid, which is a thorough training course on how to identify various threats to someone’s mental health and how to intervene. Similar to CPR to triage for a serious physical problem, this course teaches skills to triage mental health problems until you can bring in a professional to help with the situation.

Additionally, most regions and states offer localized mental health programs. For example, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture recently announced sponsorships are available for individuals and groups who want to participate in suicide prevention trainings as part of its safeTALK: Preventing Suicide in Agricultural Communities series.

If you or someone you care about is struggling with their mental health, contact one of these national hotlines for help:

To learn more about mental health and agriculture, listen to this latest podcast episode with Dr. Weshinskey.

ADM is providing this communication for informational purposes, and it is not a solicitation or offer to purchase or sell commodities. The recommendations in this communication do not take into account any particular individual’s or company’s objectives or needs, which should be considered before engaging in any commodity transactions based on these recommendations. The sources for the information and recommendations in this communication are believed to be reliable, but ADM does not warrant or guarantee the accuracy of the information or recommendations. ADM or its affiliates may hold or take positions for their own accounts that are different from the positions recommended in this communication. The information and recommendations in this communication are subject to change without notice.