Iowa’s Joni Ernst is among a group of bipartisan U.S. Senators who have introduced legislation to provide more federal money for mental health services to rural residents.
Ernst, a Republican from Red Oak, says a 2016 study by the CDC found ag workers have a higher suicide rate than any other occupation. She says the bill would establish helplines, provide suicide prevention training for farm advocates, create support groups, and reestablish the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network
“We do require the Farm and Ranch Stress Committee to develop a long-term strategy to address the issues of farmer mental health. Because we do know in those rural areas we are lacking services that you might be able to find in the greater metro areas of our rural states,” Ernst says. Ernst says they are hoping for a collaboration at all levels to give farmers more options for help.
“What we would like to do of course is see those services develop –whether it’s through the extension services through additional mental health counselors — tapping into existing resources out there,” Ernst explains. She says the high rate of suicide within the agricultural community underscores the urgent need to act right away.
She says the seed funding would help get some of the additional resources off the ground and they hope the legislation would be included in the farm bill and it would provide about 10 million dollars each year. Ernst says existing services — such as hotlines — will be reviewed to be sure it is worthwhile to put federal money into them.
“We have seen examples in the past where hotlines just certainly haven’t lived up to the expectations,” according to Ernst. “So, that’s one thing that we need to continue to provide oversight on to make sure if dollars are going to hotlines, whether they are existing or new structures, that they are providing the necessary supports.” The bill is called the Facilitating Accessible Resources for Mental Health and Encouraging Rural Solutions For Immediate Response to Stressful Times or “FARMERS FIRST” Act.