BROOKINGS, S.D. - South Dakota State University (SDSU) Extension is launching additional virtual farm stress workshops to promote mental health awareness from May throughout the summer. The series will wrap up during the National Suicide Prevention Week in September. Krista Ehlert, Assistant Professor and SDSU Extension Range Specialist, says anyone who is a producer, engaged in the agricultural industry or has close ties to a rural community is invited to attend.
Ehlert and Heather Gessner, SDSU Extension Livestock Business Management Field Specialist, officially kicked off the programming during SDSU Extension's Drought Hour on May 10, with their presentation, "Weathering the Storm in Agriculture: How to Cultivate a Productive Mindset." The webinar, which was recorded and can be viewed on SDSU Extension's YouTube channel, covered what stress is, techniques for managing stress and what to do in times of a mental health crisis.
"As producers work to maximize their income through increased production, higher prices through better marketing and improved grazing practices, they have a lot of time to evaluate and look back on every decision they make," Gessner says. "Which, when done in a realm of adaptive management is informative; however, human nature kicks in and many times this 'look back' provides negative feedback that leads to self-doubt, thus increasing the stress a producer deals with."
"Ultimately, SDSU Extension hopes that this farm stress series continues to carry forward the conversation surrounding the importance of rural behavioral health and puts tools and resources in front of farmers, ranchers, their families and local communities," Ehlert says.
The farm stress webinar series will continue in June and will be held at noon CST/11 a.m. MT the first Tuesday of each month. The program will cover the following topics throughout the summer:
- June 1: "Intro to Mental Health First Aid," Lorna Saboe-Wounded Head, SDSU Extension Family Resource Management Field Specialist, and Olivia Amundson, SDSU Extension Cow/Calf Field Specialist
- July 6: "Mindfulness," Amber Letcher, Associate Professor and SDSU Extension 4-H Youth Development Specialist
- Aug. 3: "Achieving Optimal Wellness," Hope Kleine, SDSU Extension Health Education and Food Safety Field Specialist
- Sept. 7: "Suicide Prevention," Andrea Bjornestad, Associate Professor and SDSU Extension Mental Health Specialist
"Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) helps South Dakotans understand the signs, symptoms, possible risk factors and possible warning signs of mental health problems. Participants will learn the Mental Health First Aid Action Plan and how it fits within the array of interventions available to address mental health problems," Ehlert says.
"During the July 6 and Aug. 3 webinars, producers and their families can expect to learn what mindfulness and wellness are, how they connect to a general state of wellbeing and the importance of both [in] cultivating a productive mindset to help themselves and their operations be resilient in the face of farm stress," Gessner says. "Finally, during the last webinar, participants will learn the warning signs of someone experiencing a mental health crisis, how to intervene and where to go for help."
SDSU Extension is also part of the North Central Farm and Ranch Assistance Center, a 12-state collaborative based at University of Illinois that works to expand access to and knowledge of mental health resources. The center has recently launched the website, FarmStress.org, to provide the agricultural community with resources and support by state and topic, including crisis numbers, telephone hotlines and training.
Bjornestad says the site is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment; however, the new tool will help those in agricultural communities connect with critical information to help themselves, their family members or co-workers.
"Farming and ranching is undoubtedly stressful for our South Dakota producers," says Bjornestad. "Self-doubt can start to creep in, leading to guilt and remorse about past decisions. All of these feelings can contribute to increased stress and pressure within the family. It is important that producers utilize effective coping strategies to be mentally resilient in the face of high stress. SDSU Extension offers these programs to initiate conversations on farm stress and self-care strategies to become more resilient."
There is no fee to attend, but participants will need to register for the monthly webinars on the SDSU Extension Events page. Confirmation Zoom links and reminders will be emailed to attendees.