‘We’ve lost track of who we are’: How one group is helping people support farmer mental health


In 2017, Dan Wegmueller, a fourth-generation farmer and proprietor of Wegmueller Farms, was on the point of chapter. It wasn’t till he transformed his farmhouse into an Airbnb and expanded into agritourism, that his enterprise obtained again on monitor.

“It is introduced in a income stream that we desperately wanted to maintain the farm going. But it surely’s additionally made farming enjoyable once more,” Wegmueller mentioned. 

Whereas his enterprise was struggling, Wegmueller was additionally coping with the lack of his dad and mom. He mentioned it was quite a bit to handle. 

Wegmueller was in a position to flip issues round, however he mentioned he is seen different farmers battle, as western Wisconsin leads the nation in farm bankruptcies.

He mentioned that stress can take its toll on farmers’ psychological well being and it makes him marvel: “Why is rural psychological well being such a giant concern? Now, nowadays?”

He and different farmers grapple with these questions with Farm Properly Wisconsin, a corporation that goals to help the well-being of farmers, farm employees and their households. It is an extension of an anti-poverty company known as the Southwestern Wisconsin Neighborhood Motion Program, which covers Grant, Inexperienced, Iowa, Lafayette and Richland counties. 

Now, Wegmueller attends common conferences and connects with farmers about his personal experiences via the group. 

“We have to defend applications like this for the easy proven fact that it will get folks speaking. No one’s alone on this,” he mentioned. 

The group, based in 2020, is funded via a five-year grant related to the Wisconsin Partnership Program on the College of Wisconsin-Madison Faculty of Drugs and Public Well being. By means of trainings, group members work on constructing empathetic listening expertise, connecting folks with sources and discussing points associated to farm tradition.

Farm Properly Wisconsin Founder Chris Frakes mentioned she grew up in the course of the farm disaster of the Eighties in southeast Iowa, the place she noticed firsthand how an financial downfall affected the psychological well being of farmers and their households. 

“In my specific group, we had a few farmers die by suicide within the Eighties. And my uncles, who have been farmers, actually struggled economically, practically misplaced the household farm,” she mentioned. 

“I noticed the toll that that took on farmers and farm households, mixed with the best way that farmers and farm households are usually very stoic. And they also do not have very well-developed inner sources to speak about once they’re actually burdened or struggling,” Frakes continued.

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Years later, the dairy business took a blow amid what Frakes coined a “farm downturn” in 2018, a part of what pushed her to begin Farm Properly Wisconsin. 

For David Unbehaun, a self-described “recovering dairy farmer,” and the co-owner of Unbehaun Acres in Richland County, suicide prevention is an all-too-familiar trigger to help.  

“Farmers are among the most impartial folks that may do no matter they’ll to not ask for assist. I feel it simply goes with the territory,” he mentioned. Unbehaun mentioned he knew two or three those that died by suicide within the final decade.

For Wegmueller, among the stress farmers are coping with immediately comes from the commodification of the business. He mentioned large-scale, mass manufacturing and industrialization of farming has pushed farmers into the mindset that larger is best.

As farmers, we have misplaced monitor of who we’re. We have misplaced monitor of our position on the farm and our position in society. Farmers do not produce meals anymore. We produce commodities,” he mentioned. 

Farm Properly Wisconsin focuses on suicide prevention, group sources 

Shawn Monson works with Farm Properly and leads a coaching targeted on serving to folks earlier than they’re in a psychological well being disaster.

“We provide the expertise and the coaching to have interaction in a dialog that reveals that you simply genuinely care and wish to hear how anyone’s doing, methods to take heed to them, you understand, validate what they’re experiencing,” he mentioned. 

The group additionally runs “SafeTalk,” a program to assist folks establish indicators of somebody combating suicidal ideas.

Monson mentioned getting farmers to speak via their points and validate their experiences goes a good distance in bettering their psychological well being. 

Frakes emphasised that asking for assist is an indication of energy.

“We’re not educated psychologists or psychiatrists. However we’re well-trained lay individuals who can discuss to rural neighbors in regards to the significance of taking good care of psychological well being,” Frakes mentioned. 

Unbehaun, the Richland County farmer, mentioned that anytime he hears that somebody has died by suicide he wonders: “Might I’ve helped them?”

“We could not reply all of the questions, however a minimum of we’re making an attempt,” Unbehaun mentioned.

For those who or somebody you understand is contemplating suicide, name or textual content the three-digit suicide and disaster lifeline at 988. Sources can be found on-line right here.