Apr 9, 2018
Farmer suicide addressed with introduction of STRESS Act

A bipartisan group of 10 farm state representatives has introduced the Stemming the Tide of Rural Economic Stress and Suicide (STRESS) Act for inclusion in the next farm bill. The STRESS Act (H.R. 5259) aims to bring farmers, ranchers, and agriculture workers greater access to mental health treatment.

The bill amends the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008 to reauthorize the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN). FRSAN was developed to give states resources to help farmers and ranchers, but it did not receive funding before it lapsed.

According to a statement relased by Representative David Young’s (R-IA) office, the new FRSAN will “provide free, confidential mental health services to agriculture workers, including a 24/7 crisis line, ongoing therapy, support groups, and other counseling services.”

“After continuing to learn of the rising rates of suicide in our agricultural communities,  worked with colleagues and introduced the STRESS Act which opens the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN),” Young said in a statement.

“For four years in a row, farm income has been down. Commodity prices are low. Inputs and equipment are expensive,” Young’s statement read. “Coupled with fears of retaliation against agriculture from the possibility of a trade war, many farmers are on edge. Our farm families are resilient, but they face mounting pressure which can have a significant impact on their emotions and mental health.

Our farmers feed the world and work in an environment which can be stressful because of their dependence on changing markets, weather, and other factors outside of their control.

A report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control showed those working in agriculture commit suicide at a rate higher than any other occupation. This is a problem we must confront. Mental health has not received the attention it needs and we must take action.

When I saw our veterans weren’t getting the help they needed because their calls to the Veteran’s Crisis Line weren’t made a priority, I wrote a bill to help fix it. This bipartisan bill was signed into law because no call by a veteran in need should go unanswered.

I’ve heard too much about farmers in Iowa taking their lives. And I’ve had heartbreaking conversations with spouses and family members who’ve lost a loved one in this horrible way. And after continuing to learn of the rising rates of suicide in our agricultural communities, I worked with colleagues and introduced the STRESS Act.

Farmers will be able to talk to mental health professionals who are uniquely positioned to understand the emotions and stress in a farmer’s everyday life.

FRSAN was originally created in the 2008 Farm Bill by our former Senator Tom Harkin and others, but unfortunately didn’t get the funding it needed to open.

Sowing Seeds of Hope (SSOH), a program which expired in 2014, was used to provide the resources FRSAN will provide if the STRESS Act is enacted into law. SSOH answered over 500,000 calls from farmers, trained 10,000 rural mental health professionals, and provided help to more than 100,000 families. This is why it was used as the model for the FRSAN.

Access to adequate health care, especially mental health resources, can be difficult in rural areas. And this is why I look for ways to help Iowans in all parts of the Third District.

We Iowans do our best to take care of each other. The STRESS Act is one way to help. But this isn’t solely a federal solution. We need to make sure we are conscious of one another’s behavior, needs, and words, or lack of, every day. Relationships are important. We need one another. Let’s do what we can to take care of each other to live healthy lives.”

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