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Barron County farmer breaking down stigma around mental health

Dairy cow in pasture
Dairy cow in pasture(weau)
Published: Jul. 12, 2021 at 5:28 PM CDT
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BARRON CO., Wis. (WEAU) -“That’s Trinity. That’s Felicity. That’s Jezebel and behind Jezebel are Hope and Iris.” Brittany Olson loves her cows and her life on the farm in Barron County. She and her husband Sam milk 40 registered Holsteins and Jerseys.

Together, they make up the 5th generation in agriculture.

“It’s a major sense of pride to carry on this family legacy that, you know, was all but over on my side of the family, so just to be able to be where I am today farming, carrying out a family tradition just-- it just makes my heart swell,” Olson said.

Living and working with family and a desire to leave a legacy for the next generation are some of the reasons why Jessica Beauchamp, a social worker and substance abuse specialist, said farmers stand apart from other Wisconsinites.

Beauchamp said these characteristics plus the job’s uncertainties mean farmers can also live with a high amount of stress.

“Weather, commodity markets--they are just uncontrollable, you know, whether the farm field gets flooded out or the herd gets some sort of disease,” Beauchamp said. “You have those types of things going on.”

That stress can lead to more illness and injury, drug abuse and a higher risk for suicide.

To help, Beauchamp said there are solutions that don’t require major life changes.

She said taking the first step toward help can be the hardest.

“If we can reduce stigma so people will come in sooner, I believe our suicide rate would drop drastically with farmers,” Beauchamp said.

That’s where Olson comes in. Olson openly shares her personal struggles with anxiety and depression in hopes it will help others.

“A lot of other people also bear that same cross, and they may not know how to deal with it, or how to reach out for help, and that’s where I can relate to them with my experiences,” Olson said.

She’s also quick to share how she cares for her mental health.

“There’s no shame in having to take store bought neurotransmitters when you can’t make enough of your own,” Olson said. “From a self-care perspective that’s one of the biggest things I do for my own self care--in addition to going to church and having a good support group and talking to friends and family regularly--I take my meds,” Olson said.

Though life out in the country can be isolating, Olson’s biggest message to others who may be struggling:

“You’re not alone. You are loved and you matter, and we need you here with all of us,” Olson said.

Olson said one of the big stresses for farmers is price volatility.

In addition to stigma, cost and living far away from counselors are other barriers for farmers to getting help.

The Wisconsin Farm Center through the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection can help farm families connect with mental health resources.

If you or someone you know is struggling, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

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