Increasing Mental Health Awareness In Rural America

May 22, 2023

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Unfortunately, mental illness is a growing epidemic in Rural America. And it’s a tough topic to talk about. During the Cattle Industry Convention in New Orleans, Jeff Winton, a New York dairy farmer and founder of Rural Minds, discussed his quest to educate people about the seriousness of mental illness after losing his nephew to suicide.

"We attempt to tell people is that mental illness is an illness very much like cancer and cardiovascular disease and diabetes," said Winton. "So, we need to start normalizing conversations, even though it is difficult, it should be looked upon as a disease like all the other illnesses that we do feel comfortable talking about."

He says there are some distinct warning signs of farmers and ranchers who maybe fighting mental illness.

"Some of the warning signs, especially on farms, is if a farmer or rancher decides to sell his cattle or equipment very abruptly," said Winton. "That's normally a warning sign that something's happening. If a farm that's normally very meticulously kept and maintained all of a sudden starts to look like it's in disrepair, that can be a warning sign if a person who is normally very outgoing and exuberant is all of a sudden withdrawn and becomes very quiet and keeps to themselves, that many times can be a warning sign that they're dealing with a mental illness as well."

There are mental health resources available for people living in Rural America.

"There's plenty of help available," said Winton. "That's one of the things that we're attempting to do through Rural Minds is on our website we have an aggregation of all of the resources where people can go and find information that exists, training courses that exist. People have been working in this area for many years, but it just hasn't been necessarily geared towards rural audiences until we launched our organization. So, our goal isn't to reinvent the wheel and create material that already exists. But most importantly, we're trying to get it in the hands of the people that we serve, that we represent in the 60 million people that live in small towns across this country."

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, please ask for help because your mental health and life matters. And there are lots of resources out there like Rural Minds to help and there’s always the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

Source: Western Ag Network/Cattlemen to Cattlemen