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Program gives mental health help to Utah farmers, ranchers

Posted at 8:58 AM, Mar 27, 2023

LAYTON, Utah — Roberts Family Farms in Layton is a throwback to simpler times. The farm, acquired by the Roberts bloodline in 1848, currently sits in the middle of several, newer subdivisions.

It’s one of many changes to the farm that Tyson Roberts has witnessed over the years. As a sixth-generation farmer, Roberts says keeping the farm operational is important to his heritage.

“Our farm made it through the depression,” Roberts explains. “You don’t want to let those ancestors down.”

However, that goal comes with its own set of obstacles including unpredictable weather, time management and rising production costs.

These factors have led to more mental health strain among ranchers and farmers, according to Bailee Woolstenhulme, spokesperson for the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food (UDAF). This is compounded by the culture of the agriculture industry, which hasn’t historically encouraged people to talk about their problems openly.

Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that farmers are twice as likely as people in other occupations to die by suicide.

To help combat this trend, UDAF just launched its AG Stress Assistance Program (ASAP), which operates in partnership with USU Extension AgWellness. The USDA United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)/ National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Farm and Stress Assistance Network awarded UDAF with a grant worth $559,605 about a year ago.

ASAP takes a three-pronged approach:

Mental health reimbursement – Farmers and their families, with or without insurance, get up to $2,000 per person for mental healthcare while funds are available.
Training for producers statewide— USU Extension AgWellness will host workshops statewide to train those in agriculture how to spot signs and symptoms of common mental health issues.
Training 988 suicide and crisis lifeline operators – Educate operators on how to deal specifically with the agricultural community and identify their unique stressors.

“We’re hopeful that it will be successful and that we’ll be able to use all of the grant dollars and then we are hopeful that USDA will continue their grant program so that we can reapply for grant funding to keep the program running,” explains Woolstenhulme.

USU Extension AgWellness will be monitoring this program’s success by keeping tabs on dollars spent and the number of patients who participate, according to Woolstenhulme.

To learn how to apply for mental healthcare and reimbursement, click here.