UGA joins multi-state effort to battle farmer, rancher stress
ATHENS, Ga. – The stress level in rural communities is off the charts. Farm and ranch closures, land forfeitures, labor issues and more contribute, and according to a 2015 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rates of suicide in rural communities measured twice that of urban areas.
To address this problem, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is funding four regional farm and ranch stress assistance networks, and the University of Georgia is among the more than 50 partners participating in the effort for the southern region.
The three-year, $7.2 million southern region project will span 13 states and two U.S. territories, and is being coordinated by the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture. Partner organizations in addition to UGA represent land-grant institutions to government agencies, commodity and lending groups and non-profit organizations.
Heather Sedges, an associate professor in the UT Extension Department of Family and Consumer Sciences, will serve as the overall project leader.
In Georgia, Diane Bales, associate professor and UGA Cooperative Extension Human Development Specialist, and Rebecca Brightwell, associate director of UGA’s Institute on Human Development and Disability, will lead the effort.
“UGA Extension is already doing important work related to rural stress and mental health, including an innovative project in southwest Georgia to support farmers’ wellness,” Bales said. “I look forward to the opportunity to expand these efforts across Georgia and other Southern states. It’s a great opportunity to learn from the expertise of other states and to share the resources of the University of Georgia even more widely.”
The network will coordinate six specific strategies designed to help rural citizens and communities. These include establishing hotlines for immediate accessibility, developing a comprehensive website with information and resources to address individual situations and curating and creating resources for the website.
The effort also will establish training for representatives working within rural communities to support individuals through direct services or support groups. Research into how to alleviate farmer and rancher stress as well as the issues endemic to rural communities is also part of the effort.
The regional networks are expected to capitalize on the natural synergy between extension agriculture and family and consumer sciences programs. Individual farmer success is a direct complement to economically and physically healthy rural communities.
“When we talk about farm safety, we tend to focus on accident prevention,” Brightwell said. “We neglect to talk about mental and emotional health. The most important asset of any farm operation is the health and wellness of the farmer. This project will give much needed resources for Georgia farm families.”
Sedges says partners will begin work almost immediately to establish the overall network infrastructure, as well as links to partnering agencies. Training and outreach will begin in 2021.