Market to Market: Mental Health

May 14, 2020  | 27 min

Iowa PBS’s weekly, nationally syndicated agribusiness program Market to Market brings together a panel of experts to address mental health in agriculture and answer viewer questions submitted via email and social media.

Market to Market: Mental Health was recorded and livestreamed on iowapbs.orgYouTube and Facebook Thursday, May 14 at 2 p.m. The program will broadcast Friday, May 15 at 8:30 p.m. and repeat Sunday, May 17 at 2:30 p.m. on statewide Iowa PBS. This half-hour special will also be available on-demand on YouTubeFacebook, the PBS Video App and iowapbs.org.

Stress in rural America has been building with trade troubles, shrinking margins and evaporating savings accounts. Then COVID-19 arrived and disrupted nearly everything. Farm suicides and bankruptcies have been reported and those on and off the farm in rural America need assistance. This special looks at the challenges facing those feeding the supply chain in an effort to provide resources when they need them most.

The panelist joining host Paul Yeager includes Dr. Michael R. Rosmann, clinical psychologist and fourth-generation farmer from Harlan, Iowa, who works with rural Americans on behavioral and economic welfare; Adrienne DeSutter, former counselor turned farmer in Knox County, Illinois, who works on a grain/hobby cattle farm; Emily Krekelberg, University of Minnesota Extension educator for farm safety and health; and Angie Setzer, VP of Grains for Citizens Elevator based in Charlotte, Michigan, and regular analyst on Market to Market

Market to Market is a production of Iowa PBS. Major funding is provided by Corteva, Grinnell Mutual, Sukup Manufacturing and public television stations across the country.

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Coming up on Market to Market -- farming is stressful enough on its own. Add in a pandemic and has it all become too much? A panel to help you find resources and assist others in rural America.

What's the most complex industry on Earth? It's not genetics or meteorology or logistics. It's a business that involves them all. It's farming. Thank you, farmers, from Pioneer.

Sukup Manufacturing Company, providing equipment and buildings to store and condition grain to help farmers adjust to market swings. We build drying, moving and storage equipment designed to preserve the quality of their crops. Sukup Manufacturing, store now, profit later.

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Tomorrow. For over 100 years, we've worked to help our customers be ready for tomorrow. Trust in tomorrow. Information is available from a Grinnell Mutual agent today.

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Accu-Steel, offering fabric covered buildings specifically designed for the cattle industry since 2001. The next generation of cattle buildings. Information at accusteel.com.

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This is a Market to Market Special Report.

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Yeager: Hello, I'm Paul Yeager. Mental health is almost a taboo topic for some, and others may tell you about their treatment plan for anxiety or depression. Talking about it is step one. That's why we've assembled a panel of those in the fields both agricultural and clinical. Joining us on this panel, Dr. Michael R. Rosmann. He is Clinical Psychologist and a fourth generation farmer from Harlan, Iowa who works with rural Americans on behavioral and economic welfare. Adrianne DeSutter is a former counselor, farm wife and mom in Knox County, Illinois on a grain hobby cattle farm. Emily Krekelberg is with the University of Minnesota Extension. She is an educator for them on farm safety and health. And Angie Setzer is the VP of Grains for Citizens Elevator based in Michigan. And she's also a regular contributor to our program as an analyst. Good to have all four of you here. Thank you so much for joining us.

Yeager: Angie, I'm going to start with you. You're always sitting here and we're talking about the economics of things. Are we going higher? Are we going lower? You're dealing with farmers on a regular basis, you've probably talked to 10 of them today. What are they, are they ever telling you anything other than is corn going up, corn going down? Do they ever bend your ear about something else?

Setzer: Definitely. Not just farmers that I work with directly, farmers that I have encountered through social media, through our virtual peer group, through all of the different channels it seems that we can communicate. And it's a common theme that I'm hearing is just this stress and this heavy mental load is what I've been calling it. It is something that we have definitely been talking about. I see us running into decision fatigue often, especially now it seems like every time you turn around you're having to make another decision that you don't want to make and that leads to yet another decision and another decision. And so I'm talking to hundreds of farmers a week across the countryside here and it's very common just to hear kind of that sound or the underlying tone in the conversation of what do I do? How do I fix this? And where do we go from here?

Yeager: Not something that they probably taught you in school when you started doing this. I wanted to let you know that you will see phone numbers at the bottom of your screen as Angie was talking there, those are a few of the options available for seeking help if you need it. So you can also search the web for services in your area. Adrianne, in your area there in Knox County, south of the Quad Cities, north of Galesburg and Peoria, you're on the farm, you're dealing with it. First off is corn and soybeans, are they both in the ground for you right now?

DeSutter: We are fortunate to have all of our planting done right now.

Yeager: That's step one. That helps right there because you know how big of a deal that is. So, living the day-to-day life on the farm, how do you try to put things in perspective as a professional with your professional hat and your farmer hat? How do you put those two together?

DeSutter: Well, you kind of have to because those of us on the farm living farm life we're constantly dealing with stressors. Unfortunately this pandemic has brought a lot of stress across the nation, across the world, when it comes to being surrounded by family more than we're used to, when it comes to being isolated, when it comes to just having that uncertainty, that financial pressure. There's a lot of stressors happening right now with everyone that unfortunately are not necessarily new to farm life. There are definitely some new circumstances that have come up in agriculture, but the stressors that we're dealing with are something that we're unfortunately used to having to combat. So because I'm a counselor I'm able to, when I entered the world of agriculture, I met my husband 8and a half or so years ago, kind of learned about how all of these stressors play into not just the occupation of farming but the entire lifestyle because it is, it's a lifestyle, so you kind of have to work that out.

Yeager: It is. Emily, you travel to farms, grew up on a dairy farm there in Minnesota. We had a conversation a couple of weeks ago where you were telling me about some of the physical sides of injuries that can happen and the mental sides of injuries. I want to ask you though, are you doing okay? Are you fine? When you hear somebody say, I'm fine, are they?

Krekelberg: No. I am a big proponent of, and it's kind of a Minnesota or a Midwest thing, right. How are you? I'm fine. I'm fine. And I think especially if you’ve ever been in a relationship and your significant other goes, I'm fine. Oh my gosh, it's not fine. You need to figure out what's going on. So yes, I today am better than fine. I am doing swell.

Yeager: You're doing swell. So that's the new way I should approach this one. When you talk to groups, and at some point you will talk to groups in person, you're doing some of that remotely now, kind of hard to look somebody in the eye. Physically can you tell someone has maybe some challenges or maybe needs to have an extra question or a follow up asked to them?

Krekelberg: You know, stress can manifest itself in a lot of different ways and that is part of some of the work that I do is teaching people, both farmers and agribusiness professionals who work with farmers, how to recognize some of those signs of stress. And physically we can see things if they complain a lot about being sick or I have a headache or my shoulders hurt, if we're carrying tension from being tensed up all the time. Also people may start to slip on their grooming. So if you notice maybe they haven't showered in a while --

Yeager: That's just because my stylist hasn't been available. Cut me some slack on that.

Krekelberg: I know, I was going to say or they haven't cut their hair. But yeah, so there's certainly things you can look for and I would say the biggest things I notice and it's one of those things that is difficult to explain but I am very much a person who is big on eye contact. And you can usually tell just by looking somebody in the eye if something is wrong. And part of that I think just ties into human intuition or you get that gut feeling and for me that is really something that I notice or if they won't look at you, especially somebody who usually will make eye contact, so people I deal with regularly and suddenly they're very standoffish, that is usually a big red flag for me.

Yeager: Okay. Dr. Mike, you've been on several programs across the country, across the world. You've been at this unfortunately a couple of years in the sense of you've seen stress over time. We have talked in the past to you about the Farm Crisis in the 1980s. When you hear what you've just heard from the first three, and you know what is going on, on the farm now, how similar is what you're hearing today versus what you heard and witnessed in the '80s? Is there any similarities? And are there any differences?

Rosmann: Thank you. There are considerable similarities. Back in the 1980s people had little control over the factors that were causing the stress on the farm. Those stressors then were a very high interest rate, which of course is very different now for farmers who are borrowing money either for long-term investments or short-term loans. But now that uncertainty has exceeded the Farm Crisis of the 1980s and I think that's why we're hearing illusions clear back to the Great Depression of the 1930s when we listen to newscasts. The current time is just as Angie and Adrianne and Emily have been describing, that is we have the foundation of very low farm prices that has always caused concern for farmers but currently we have the overlay of COVID. On May 13 I participated in a telephone conference call with a number of operators of Farm Crisis telephone and hotline services. Across the board everybody was saying that the number of callers to these free services has increased greatly. One hotline said 50,000 calls in the past 2 months.

Yeager: Wow. And I'm hoping that that's the peak, but let's be realistic about this, Angie. We know that there's going to be more. I had a conversation with a farmer yesterday, Angie, and it was a guy who has livestock, he has hogs and he got a new shipment, 20 pounds, 40 pounds at most and he put it on Facebook that he was going to have to figure out a way to sell them because he knew his end destination didn't have an opportunity and wasn't going to be able to take those animals. He said, I struggle to mow under the soybeans last year when I misplanted something, that physically hurt my stomach. Because I asked him, what if you have to euthanize these animals? And he said, I don't know how to do it. And we did get a question that was emailed to us, how do we safeguard mental health while euthanizing animals? Do you have that discussion with somebody from a financial sense, then I'll get the emotional side of this. Angie?

Setzer: The financial sense it's almost too much to wrap your arms around. We're still trying to figure out, we had the USDA discussion on what the coronavirus safety nets look like and everyone is still trying to figure out what that means. Are there going to be government safeguards? Are there going to be, is there going to be money coming in? I have a friend that they raise contact hogs and basically they have foregone rent a couple of different months to try to help the person that is higher up than what they are to just continue to facilitate that relationship going forward. And yeah, the financial aspect of it at this point in time, I have a hog feeder that I work with here in Michigan and the only thing he could keep saying two weeks ago when we talked is, what a strange time, what a strange time we live in. Now, they were fortunate enough that they weren't at that point where they were having to make the euthanization decision, but they were leaving barns empty, they weren't bringing in replacements once they had shipped the butcher hogs out and that is not, it's the same thing as having an empty bin in October. You are not mentally programmed to function that way. So yeah, from the financial side of things we're still trying to figure out what that looks like I think at this point most anyone would tell you. From the emotional side I can only imagine.

Yeager: Yeah, and I'm going to ask Adrianne. Unfortunately she has to answer this one. You've got the kids at home, Adrianne. They can pick up, even at a pretty small age, when mom and dad are having some stress and they might now what is going on, you might have a kid that is 7 to 12 that knows what is happening. How do you talk through some of that scenario?

DeSutter: Well, I think we have to be good examples in wellness and starting by taking care of ourselves honestly. Having those conversations are really important, even I have a daughter that is almost 4 and we already are talking about when mom has a tough time or when dad has a tough time. And I think one thing that is important is we know that farmers are really resilient, that's something that we have in our blood I suppose as farm families, but remembering that resilience doesn't begin with just staying positive and trying to fix the problem, resilience starts with adversity and struggle. and instead of jumping to the solutions and how am I going to fix this and how am I going to cope, the number one, the start to resilience is just having stress and acknowledging that stress is okay and acknowledging that as a farm family that is going through some of these things it's okay to be stressed. It's okay to be sad. It's okay to be worried, fearful of what is going to happen. It's okay to be frustrated with the situation. We're all in different places mentally and we have to start just by acknowledging that having those feelings is okay. When we're ready to bounce back we will, but being real about feelings and thoughts is really important with our farm families.

Yeager: Mike, I'm not going to put you on the spot to be the resident guy who was there in the '80s, but I went through the '80s and I remember, it was one of those things where families didn't talk about certain things. Do you think we've learned the lesson that maybe what our parents didn't always bring us into the discussions that maybe that wasn't healthy and this time we're doing kind of what Adrianne is talking about is we are having some of those discussions on a more open platform?

Rosmann: We are definitely seeing the agricultural producers being much more open in their discussions, talking about themselves. I think a lot of the credit for this shift belongs to the publications that farmers read and the television and radio shows that they listen to. It is commonly, it's so common to have an article in a farm magazine about stress and what we can do about it. But besides just talking and being resilient, a step in those directions is to form a support team, that helps not only to bring others into the picture for finding solutions, but it helps us to have support teams because we can relate to one another and acquire expertise. This reaching out by farmers to others and for expertise is a new feature that has emerged over the past 30 some years since the Farm Crisis of the '80s.

Yeager: Emily, you and I when we chatted a couple of weeks ago we talked about how maybe at meetings someone will hang around and they don't necessarily want to be seen talking to someone like you because oh, they're going to figure out that maybe I've got -- has that stigma gone away? How do we get over that stigma for the gruff side that a farmer might have and be willing to talk to someone like yourself?

Krekelberg: Yeah, and for me personally I've been an advocate for mental health for a long time. I myself suffer from mental illness and have struggled with my mental health even as recently as a few months ago. And I find that the biggest way we can break down stigma is by just continuing to talk about it, that's how you normalize these things. And yes certainly, when I'm at meetings or speaking with farmers there are the ones that will very boldly and confidently walk right up to me, shake my hand, start sharing their story. There's the ones that if we're in a hotel that maybe has a hallway to the bathrooms they'll kind of lurk over there because then they can have a little bit more of a private conversation, which I know that is what some people need. And for me I very much want to see mental health and those related topics in farming be normalized. But I also need to understand that you need to meet people where they're at, help bring them along with you. And so for some people yeah, that's going to be a less confrontational approach to begin with. But I have found that a big piece in breaking down stigma is sharing not just my story but stories of some of the farmers that I have worked with in the past. It is astounding to me how many people either tell me face-to-face or text me or email me or call me later or will write in an evaluation for a seminar I've taught that go, I just had no idea that other people felt this way, it's just nice to know I'm not alone. And clearly this is a huge issue we see. Yeah, people think that it's only them. And so the more that we talk about it the more that we can relate to one another and know that we're not alone.

Yeager: I could see while Emily was talking the other three were nodding their heads and I was getting an Amen from the congregation. Angie, your coop group, you have meetings, you have gone to meetings and talked to these farmers like we're talking about with Emily. One programs yes it's about maximizing yield or trying to top it just right to sell the profit. What is the conversation like in coop groups that have a responsibility, I'm going to say it, to maybe slip in some of this discussion that we're having into the same program that is talking about timing the markets correct?

Setzer: Well, I definitely think the helping maximize and making sure that you're doing all of the things that I tend to talk about when I'm on Market to Market and talk about with farmers is what helps that mental health as we move ahead. So we have conversations about thinking several months down the road and what that looks like and what we can do to help you sleep better at night. And obviously at this point in time no one has hit this market perfect, it's impossible to do so, but those that were proactive and that we've had these conversations about whether it's stress, mental load, struggles on maintaining a positive ROI and doing all the things that they need to do to maximize or hit, you're never going to hit the top of the market, but sure as heck try. Those folks are in a better place obviously right now as a whole than those that may not be. So it all is to me all-encompassing in the sense that what can I do to help you make better decisions that will help you feel better about what you're doing as we move ahead. And it's never going to be perfect and that is part of it too. I have conversations with my growers about what embracing imperfection in a marketing plan looks like, focusing on the things that we've done that have been very good and kind of learning from the things that haven't necessarily been as good. And so that's a constant conversation that I'm having with my growers because I'm so intrigued by decision making and personality types and all of those things that it really has become an all-encompassing sort of approach that I take when it comes to addressing those questions that they may have.

Yeager: Adrianne, you know that farmers can sniff out, they really understand genuine conversation and expertise of certain things. You've been there, you know what I've gone through, you and your husband you were telling me earlier this week have a very personal story and you have sessions with growers in your area. How important is it unfortunately that you have to have that experience? Don't you wish you could just be talking about this without that experience and somebody wouldn't go through with an ultimate end of life situation? How do you try to bring somebody back that might be thinking about making that phone call with a loaded something on the other end?

DeSutter: Oh it's such a tough conversation to have, isn't it? And it never goes away. I counseled in a school for six years and any time I ever had to bring up the word suicide with someone it still makes you have butterflies and you get uncomfortable. But it's something that we have to do and it's something that my husband and I have recognized that when we were hearing about suicides in our area and just knowing some of the stresses that we were going through as a family and as a farm family in particular, we felt like we couldn't wait for a crisis to happen in our family, we couldn't wait until that was our story, until we had something tragic happen before we started to speak out and that is why we started doing some, we actually write articles in a publication regularly and we have, well now webinars regularly. But yeah, I've done a lot of speaking at conferences and even actually I had just a seed salesman host an event in his shop and so it was right in the midst of the farm in the shop with local farmers in the area and that is exactly what it is, just like Emily said, meeting them where they're at and then genuineness, that real empathy, you don't have to be a doctor or a therapist to have a conversation with someone. Really listen to what they're saying and express that empathy and say, this is hard, this is hard that you're going through this, but I'm going to be here with you through that. And I think that is something that when we talk about resources for farm families we have to remember that we are our first resource, we as an ag community and as an industry are the first resource, the first line of defense for having those conversations.

Yeager: Adrianne, I'm listening to you, I'm also listening to the producers telling me I've got to wrap up. We have less than a minute left. I know we talk about resources, primary care doctors, therapists, clergy, state university extension office, there's also the telehealth model. Real quickly, Emily, you've got about 30 seconds here, walk me through a couple of coping mechanisms. Is it as simply as breathing? Is it as simple as talking? What do we have?

Krekelberg: Yeah, I think for some people talking about the way that they're feeling is really useful and I think if you're the listener you need to ask the person, do you want me to fix this or do you just want me to listen? Because I'm a fixer and so I always want to fix. And so my one fiend is like, Emily, I don't need you to fix, I just need you to listen. Talking, deep breathing, kind of grounding yourself, so a really easy one is just inhale and as you inhale think, I am, and as you exhale, here. You're just telling yourself, I am here.

Yeager: And I am so thankful to the four of you for being a part of this discussion. My thanks to the four of you, Angie Setzer, Adrianne DeSutter, Emily Krekelberg and Dr. Mike Rosmann. Thank you so much for the four of you for being here. And please remember that there are several options for seeking help during these trying times. We will put the phone numbers that you've seen on the bottom of your screen on our website. And remember, there are professionals out there that can help you if you need it. I thank you so very much for watching. Have a great week.

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Market to Market is a production of Iowa PBS which is solely responsible for its content.

What's the most complex industry on Earth? It's not genetics or meteorology or logistics. It's a business that involves them all. It's farming. Thank you, farmers, from Pioneer.

Sukup Manufacturing Company, providing equipment and buildings to store and condition grain to help farmers adjust to market swings. We build drying, moving and storage equipment designed to preserve the quality of their crops. Sukup Manufacturing, store now, profit later.

(music)

Tomorrow. For over 100 years, we've worked to help our customers be ready for tomorrow. Trust in tomorrow. Information is available from a Grinnell Mutual agent today.

(music)

Accu-Steel, offering fabric covered buildings specifically designed for the cattle industry since 2001. The next generation of cattle buildings. Information at accusteel.com.

(music)

Phone numbers to call if in need of assistance: 

 


Avera Farm and Rural Stress/800-691-4336
Iowa Concern Hotline/800-447-1985
National Suicide Prevention/800-273-TALK
Minnesota Farm and Rural Helpline/833-600-2670
Rural Safe/800-270-1898

 

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