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Lynda Waddington at the Iowa Independent reports that there’s been a 20% increase in calls to a hotline set up to serve farmers in seven Midwestern states. Not only are there more calls to the Sowing the Seeds of Hope hotline, Waddington reports, the “content of the calls is changing,” said a hotline supervisor. “The callers are reporting much more severe economic turmoil, more mental health symptoms and significant increases in mental stress.”
This isn’t a good sign. During the farm crises of the 1980s, farm suicides spiked. Iowa and Nebraska developed their hotlines then to serve ag workers. Waddington’s argument in her Independent story is that the hotline works. Suicides appear to be down in the state where the hotline. And that as farm troubles appear to be on the rise — particularly within the dairy sector — she says this would be the time for Congress to fully fund the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network.
Congress approved the Network with the 2008 farm bill. “The network creates a national crisis hotline for rural workers and also mandates additional behavioral health services in geographically rural regions,” Waddington writes. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack, however, says he doesn’t see much hope for additional funding.