A group of individuals and organizations from across Montana, led by Montana State University Extension, are collaborating to provide resources and solutions for farmers and ranchers under stress.
“We know from various research that there is a high level of stress in life, specifically among farmers and ranchers in rural areas like Montana,” said Michelle Grocke, health and wellness specialist with MSU Extension and assistant professor in the MSU Department of Health and Human Development.
Stress can be caused by a range of issues, Grocke said, from commodity prices, weather and crop yield to debt load, passing a farm or ranch to the next generation, family issues, and injuries or illness. She added that it can lead to mental illness, increased risk of suicide and other health issues.
Now, a team of Montanans known as the Montana Farm/Ranch Stress Prevention Advisory Council is working to create a new website that will host resources to help farmers, ranchers and other community members better understand the causes of stress – as well as how to manage it. The website is expected to launch this summer.
“Ultimately, we hope these resources will lessen the risk of mental illness and suicide among Montana’s farming and ranching communities,” Grocke said.
The website is a direct response to a need MSU Extension staff continue to hear about from people across the state, said Suzanne Stluka, associate director of MSU Extension.
“MSU Extension staff began to share tough stories of how chronic stress was impacting agriculture producers,” she said. “We knew we needed to do something.”
The team working on the website is composed of more than 20 members representing agricultural, health, tribal, veteran, local government and MSU communities.
Project leaders are Grocke, Stluka and Alison Brennan, MSU Extension mental health specialist and assistant professor in the Department of Health and Human Development. In addition to the MSU Department of Health and Human Development and MSU Extension, partner organizations include Montana Farm Bureau, Custer County Commission, Garfield County Commission, Montana USDA Farm Service Agency, MSU Extension Local Government Center and the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services.
Grocke noted that an important component of the project is its accessibility: Individuals can access the resources anywhere there is an internet connection, whether it’s the library or their own homes.
The project is funded by a $32,737 grant from the Montana Healthcare Foundation.
“We feel really grateful and excited that they felt this was of value for them to support,” Grocke said. “A lot of the projects this foundation supports are collaborative in nature, innovative and forward-looking. We were thrilled to have them think this is a project deserving of their funding.”
The advisory council hopes the resources and materials will spark discussions about the causes and effects of stress — and, in the process, remove stigma associated with the topic, according to Brennan. They also hope it will equip community members with evidence-based farm stress and mental wellness resources to assist them in managing their stress.
“There is, in fact, quite a lot of stigma still surrounding discussions about mental health, mental illness, mental disorders and suicide,” Brennan said. “My hope is that by providing a centralized location for relevant information running the gamut of topics — from plant diseases, weather and financial management, to stress management techniques, to suicide prevention best practices — we can start some crucial conversations about mental health in rural Montana, reduce stigma and save lives.”
Darla Tyler-McSherry, a member of the Montana Farm/Ranch Stress Prevention Advisory Council and director of student health at Montana State University Billings, said goals for the website include bringing attention to the issue of suicide in Montana’s farm and ranch communities and giving people practical, easy-to-incorporate strategies to improve their mental health.
“Additionally, I want to communicate the message that if you or a loved one is struggling with thoughts of suicide, you are not alone and effective help is available,” Tyler-McSherry said. “Lastly, I want this project to help confirm the notion that seeking help is not a sign of weakness, but rather, a sign of incredible strength.”
More information is available at montana.edu/wellness_extn/stress-management/mt_farm_stress_clearing_house/project_page.html.
To learn more or to offer feedback on the website, contact Grocke at 406-994-4711 or email@example.com