Western Wisconsin farmers focus on improving mental health

DURAND, Wis. (WEAU) -- Wisconsin farmers are dealing with a crisis and the current climate has many hitting their breaking point. Suicide, depression and anxiety among farmers are increasing at a high rate and Western Wisconsin is coming together to help.

Farmers hope to reduce mental health stigma.

For many farmers, the time to speak up and ask for help is now. During a town hall meeting in Durand, farmers shared their stories with just one goal in mind, taking the time to let off some steam and just listen.

"It's just not working; we need help now,” said a farmer during the session. Farmers are standing together and begging for some relief. "I think we are asking to simply be able to provide for our family,” said farmer, Ron Poeschel.

The tough financial times are causing farmers to speak up about what they are going through. "You can see the smile is not on their face, the attitude the demeanor it has changed, myself included,” Poeschel added.

A new reality, causing heartbreak in rural Wisconsin, which a place that means so much to so many farmers. The frustration in the market is forcing mental health issues to rise to the surface. "My family didn't recognize the signs, nobody knew what to do to help me, I didn't eat, I lie in bed all day and cry, it was awful,” said farmer, Randy Roecker.

To make sure farmers had a platform to share, Brian Winnekins from WRDN radio organized a town hall meeting at Weiss Family Farms. "It really is heartbreaking and at the same time I am glad I was able to get some folks to talk about that and talk about some heartbreaking issues,” Winnekins said.

At first, farmers were hesitant to share. "Farmers you don't want to come out publicly and say these things, you want to just keep quiet on your own farms,” Roecker said. But then, one by one, they stared to voice their opinions. "We just want fair prices,” a farmer said.

Not only were they sharing with their peers but also with law makers and local professionals. "We encourage you to tell your story, closed mouths don't get fed, your stories matter,” said Julie Bomar from the Wisconsin Farmers Union. Bomar says they want to help and added they do have some small grants available. "We know that you are hard workers,” she added. “We know that you are good business people and when you have a crisis like this, it's because the forces are bigger then you."

On a larger scale, Dr. Josie Rudophi, a research scientist from the Farm Medicine Center also shared her recent findings about the mental health of upper Midwest farmers. "What we found in young farmers and ranchers in these four states is that almost 70 percent are reporting at least mild systems of anxiety and at least 60 percent at least mild symptoms of depression,” Dr. Rudophi said.

She is working to bring mental health first aid to farmers on the farm that would help recognize the signs and to come up with a 5 step action plan. She also reminded farmers to use the acronym HERD, which stands for hobbies, exercise, relaxation and distractions away from the farm.

"It's where neighbors know neighbors, it's where neighbors help neighbors and that is what farmers are,” Poeschel said. They are reminding of the importance of self-care during this tough time. "We shouldn't have this well going to a therapist is bad but going to the doctor is okay, no it's one in the same,” Winnekins said.

They are hoping to reduce the stigma mental health and get farmers off the farm and talking. "Farmers are going to become extinct if you don't do something and possibly because they are taking out themselves,” said farmer, Jane Poeschel.

While waiting for the market to improve and brighter days ahead, they are simply talking about the issues. "If we prevent one suicide it will be a total success,” Winnekins said.

Resources like calling 2-1-1 or the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255 were brought up during the discussion. But the message heard over and over was to talk to your farm friends and neighbors. Take the time to share how you are feeling, check in with them and just take time to listen.