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Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone in need. noipornpan-GettyImages

Stress isn’t seasonal for farmers and veterinarians

Ted Mathews, director of rural mental health for Minnesota, says for every suicide, there are 25 attempts that go unreported.

The holidays are over and it’s “back to the grind,” a phrase most likely not used very often by our hardworking pork producers. Real pig farming doesn’t stop just because it is Christmas or New Year’s. There are no mandatory furloughs or a bank of vacation hours to use it or lose it before the end of the year. No, pork production is a 365-day job.

Which is why, during this holiday season, I found myself taking note of all of the coverage on suicide prevention for farmers as well as veterinary professionals. The staff at the South Dakota Helpline Center reminded farmers this week who are struggling that it’s OK to “check their mental toughness” and ask for help. There have been reports that the Nebraska Suicide Prevention hotline is currently receiving more calls than they did during the farm crisis of the ’80s.

The American Veterinary Medical Association recently partnered up with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in researching Suicide among veterinarians in the United States from 1979 through 2015. The study, published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, reports female veterinarians were 3.5 times as likely, and male veterinarians were 2.1 times as likely, to die from suicide as the general population.

“As medical professionals, we need to understand and learn about the clinical signs associated with suicide and work with other medical professionals to confront and combat this serious problem,” says John de Jong, president of AVMA.

Question, persuade, refer
The AVMA and partners are creating and developing resources, not only for those in distress, but for those who love and want to help those who are suffering. A key program available to help veterinarians identify and refer at risk colleagues, is QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) training. The AVMA offers this one-hour, online “gatekeeper training” free of charge to every member and veterinary student. It teaches people without professional mental health backgrounds to recognize the signs that someone may be considering suicide and helps them to establish a dialogue.

“Often times, people may suspect someone is suffering but they don’t know what to say, or they worry that what they say may make the situation worse,” says Jen Brandt, AVMA’s director of member well-being and diversity. “It is my goal to have every veterinarian complete the QPR training. It provides guidance on what to say and ways in which you can enhance a sense of belonging and help alleviate the sense of fear that some may have about being a burden to their friends, family or colleagues.”

Women at risk
During a recent interview with Prairie Farmer, Ted Mathews, director of rural mental health for Minnesota, says for every suicide, there are 25 attempts that go unreported, and women are more likely than men to commit suicide.

The Upper Midwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center recognizes that women are at a higher risk, thus one of the reasons they are currently hosting an interactive online series Cultivating Resiliency for Women in Agriculture. The series, which runs through April, sets out to help women in agriculture focus on what they can control in these challenging times and connect them with resources and information that can help them weather stress.

UMASH along with the University of Minnesota also recently put together this resource card with the behavioral and physical signs of stress to look for in farmers, ag workers and their families, as well as tips for what to do if you or someone you know is experiencing stress or mental health challenges.

The holidays can often be a stressful time for people of every profession. But now that the Christmas tree has come down, the holiday guests have gone home, and we have gone “back to the grind,” let’s not forget that stress hasn’t eased up for many in our industry. Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone in need.

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