February 2019 - Mental Health in Rural Nebraska

(Annette Dubas, Executive Director, NABHO)

Nebraskans are proud to boast of our strong agricultural history. We are number one in the nation for commercial beef production and number three in corn; one in four jobs in Nebraska are related to agriculture. Farmers and ranchers work tirelessly and are connected to our land in a way that few outside of our industry can understand. It is not our job, it is our identity and a part of our very soul. Our greatest asset is our work ethic and independent nature; it can also be our greatest liability when we need to ask for support. We are quick to respond to neighbors who need help but reluctant to admit our own struggles.

As farmers we are price takers, not price makers. We cannot control the weather, the price of our commodities, interest rates, or the costs of our inputs. Multiple years of low prices and higher interest rates are eating into our equity, and younger farmers don’t have that much to leverage.

Since 2013 farm income has fallen 60%, and since 2015, bankruptcies in Nebraska have tripled. Another disturbing statistic indicates suicide rates are 2-3 times higher in rural areas, which includes farmers and ranchers. When farmers and ranchers are not able to hang on to their operation, likely one that has been in the family for generations, it is more than a personal failure. We are charged with carrying on our family’s heritage and it is an obligation accepted with pride and staunch determination. No one wants to be the generation that “lost the farm”.

While there may not be many avenues for help financially, there is help to deal with the mental stresses inherent in farming. Seeking mental health care is no different than going to the doctor for physical health care. Our brain is an organ just like the heart or kidney and just as susceptible to illness. Our state must prioritize a sustainable behavioral health system of care. Nebraska has 88 of it’s 93 counties designated mental health professions shortage areas and 32 of these counties have no behavioral health provider of any kind. This situation demands our attention.

The Rural Response Hotline has helped thousands of men and women find help. They are trained to connect you with mental health counseling in a confidential and compassionate manner. Reaching out for help is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength and commitment to doing everything you can to care for yourself, your family and honor your ancestors. The number is 1-800-464-0258. You can also call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

I write this from two distinct but convergent perspectives. I am a proud farmer and one that has survived many financial challenges and personal struggles. My heart and soul are planted in the land my family has farmed for 5 generations. I am also the Executive Director for the Nebraska Association of Behavioral Health Organizations. We advocate for a system that supports behavioral health providers so they can provide the right services at the right time in the right location for those in need of behavioral health care.

We must let our state policy makers know that when they are crafting policies to support the financial viability of our state’s farmers and ranchers, they must not overlook policies that strengthen and sustain our behavioral health system of care.