In an instant. Those three words summarize how quickly Debbie Mills was overcome with a feeling of hopelessness. Says Mills, "One-night last March I had gone out to feed the cows. When you’re taking care of animals it was is tough to see they were are cold, and you couldn’t can’t do anything about it. It was that moment when it hit me."
It’s a feeling that she says had just built up over time due to low milk prices, unfavorable weather conditions and low commodity prices. "Nothing that everyone else isn’t dealing with, we all are," she says. Many of the factors hitting farmers so hard right not are not unique. They’re industry wide. Mills farms with her husband in Southern Minnesota and now uses her story to encourage her neighbors and other farmers to reach out for help. To talk to someone.
“It was hard to feel vulnerable. It was hard to make the call, but now I know the vulnerability and being able to talk about your mental health is all rooted in strength. When you talk about it, that pressure kettle of holding it all in is finally released.”
Mills called a mental health counselor and says she immediately felt like someone was listening and understood the stress she was going through.
The facts are startling. In 2016, nearly 45,000 Americans age 10 or older died by suicide. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death and is one of just three leading causes that are on the rise. And suicide rates are higher in rural areas than they are in urban areas, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Recognizing the economic uncertainty in the farming industry, Land O’Lakes, Inc. has sought ways to help our members and their families navigate these difficult circumstances, including recognizing warning signs of mental health crisis and suicide.
In 2019 we hosted two events called Harvesting Hope in rural communities. Held in partnership with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Land O’Lakes invited our members, employees and members of the community to each event with the goal to educate on the signs of depression and how to leverage a three-step process to help prevent suicide, called Question, Persuade, Refer.
Look, we know Land O'Lakes isn't a healthcare provider. Nor does it have professionals in mental health. But as a farmer-owned cooperative for nearly 100 years, we can use our vast network to connect our members to the people that are.
In this latest episode of Something Greater we brought in those experts. Not only on how to recognize loved ones who may need assistance but to put the issues in context. What farmers and rural communities are facing right now are, intense challenges on many fronts. Even if you’re not a farmer living it, this is an episode about education -- and you don’t have to be in the Ag community to care about mental health. Join host Kim Olson and guests Emily Wilmes, director of the rural stress task force at the University of Minnesota Extension. Also, Glenda Gehl, the Senior Director of Member Relations at Land O’Lakes.
The podcast is available in the member Connections newsletter. You can subscribe through iTunes, Spotify, Google Podcasts or wherever podcasts are available -- be sure to subscribe and rate each episode.