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Stress on the farm

By Staff | Feb 14, 2020

Editor’s note, this is the second of a two-part series of articles that will discuss issues related to farm stress and information and resources that are available.



How can we help those that are dealing with such a high level of stress, due to the uncertainty within the agricultural economy, that they may be considering ending their own lives?

David Brown, behavioral health state specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and the Iowa Farm Bureau collaborated recently during a webinar to provide some insight on ways you may be able to help.

Brown said he likes to refer to what he calls the CORN model.

  • C: Choose to engage

“This is really critical, because sometimes we choose to not engage a person. Maybe we feel we don’t know how? Or maybe we think we might upset him or her,” he said. “Or maybe we are just uncomfortable talking about such a difficult issue.”

Brown said people are much more likely to seek help if someone close to them suggests it.

“You have to first choose to engage and by doing that, you may help save a person’s life,” he said.

  • O: Offer support

Brown said you’ve chosen to engage, so now you can offer support. Ask the person if they are considering killing themselves and let them talk.

“Give them time to express what is happening,” he said. “Listen very attentively and carefully. Try to understand what they are saying and then offer support.”

After they are finished and if you are concerned about them committing suicide, Brown said you will want to be direct and respectively ask, “are you thinking about killing yourself?”

“There’s a myth that asking about suicide could encourage it. Research says it’s just the opposite that is true,” he said. “By asking someone directly about their suicidal feelings, this will often lower their anxiety level and act as a deterrent so we should always feel comfortable asking that question.”

If indeed they say they are considering suicide and talk about an organized plan, they would be considered in crisis and a higher risk of suicide.

  • R: Refer a person to help lines, life lines or local resources

“If in crisis, one of the first things, I might want to think about, would assist them to a local hospital or emergency room, talk to a mental health provider, pastor or primary care provider together,” said Brown. “If they become belligerent, call 911.”

If the person in crisis would rather not accept that kind of assistance, Brown suggests the next step may be to call the Suicide Prevention and Lifeline together.

That number is 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Or eventually, a three digit number will be available and that will be 988.

“There are professionals trained for individuals who are stressed or suicidal,” he said. “The line is answered locally in Iowa, either Cedar Rapids or Iowa City and they have access to resources and information across the state they can make referrals to.”

If a person claims they are not suicidal, but seem distraught, Brown said to consider contacting the Iowa Concern Hotline at 1-800-447-1985.

The Iowa Concern Hotline is a program of Iowa State University Extension that is also available 24/7.

“They can assist with stress counseling referral and they also have two attorneys on staff to assist with legal education as need be,” he said. “In fact, they were very busy a few months ago when individuals were setting up leasing agreements for the year.”

If an individual is accepting help, but may not feel comfortable talking to someone, Brown said they can visit suicide.org where they have a chat line or they can text a crisis line by texting HOME to 74174.

Another resource is Finding Answers Now, which is another 24/7 phone support by calling 1-800-447-1985.

“Here they can find information on personal finance, stress relationship, nutrition, wellness all of the things that helps us be stronger and have much better wellbeing and self care,” he said.

ISU Extension also has a number of programs that also deal with stress management including “Elevate” which is a program for relationship education; “What About Me? My Wellbeing,” a four session program focusing on wellbeing, social, emotional, finance, and nutrition.

  • N: Never leave a person alone

“Never leave that person alone, or without a plan and never leave a person without hope,” said Brown. “Even if you have referred them to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, you will never want to leave them alone. Provide a warm hand off to the E.R., a family member or caregiver. You have to have steps to ensure they are safe. If they are suicidal and left alone, bad things can happen. That is why it is an important step to never leave the person alone.”

Even if the person appears to be “non-crisis” Brown suggests to at least leave the person with referral information.

Also, be sure to follow-up with the person, at least weekly.

“Make sure they are non-crisis and by following all of these steps, the action has told the person they are not alone and there is help. And, by following all of these steps, you may have saved a person’s life,” he said.


Brown said there are trainings that are available for download and one of those is “Mental Health First Aid.”

This is an eight hour training focusing on mental health literacy and skills to help someone experiencing a mental health crisis. This program is available at no cost, Brown said due to a grant received from USDA.

Another program available thanks to a similar grant from USDA, Brown said is called “Question, Persuade, Refer.” This is a one and a half hour program he said to teach people and professionals about the warning signs to suicide crisis and appropriate responses.

“It is an evidence and research based program that is used across the nation in a variety of different settings,” he said. “We want to get the word out these programs are available at no cost.”

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