For about a year and a half, Jeremy Daubert and Cynthia Martel of the Virginia Cooperative Extension have been hosting sessions across the state to help farmers cope with stress in addition to their other duties.

Now, that same program is accessible online as of June 23, in a step Daubert said can make it available to more producers.

“I do think that when we do it in person, we do some hands-on things. I think it’s far more impactful than doing it online,” Daubert said. But “any information you can get to help somebody is good.”

The suicide rate for farmers is 1.5 times the rate for the general public, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In addition, suicides in workers between 16 and 64 years of age in the agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors has risen 34% since 2000, according to the CDC.

"It could be anything," Daubert said of stresses that weigh on farmers. "A drought, a hurricane, a death in the family. Anything of that sort comes, and you plan that something bad may happen, but it's not the same as when something does happen."

Daubert said he and Martel have done over 20 in-person sessions across the commonwealth with groups ranging from 12 to 60 participants.

“I’ve had people burst out in tears,” Daubert said.

The extension is looking to do more, smaller group programming in the fall, if possible given the COVID-19 pandemic, Daubert said.

The more producers open up and speak about difficult personal issues with other farmers, friends, family and professionals, the more it removes the stigma around experiencing emotional distress, said Adam Culler, Virginia Farm Bureau communications coordinator.

“It’s really about opening up the communication lines between residents and farmers and really rallying around each other,” Culler said. “That’s a big part of what this is."

The program was originally crafted by agricultural professionals who work in the field and have first-hand experience, he said.

“It's important because a lot of people, they’re isolated in these rural areas and they may not even have the access to mental health professionals,” he said. “By adding these resources out there, it’s going to give people options.”

For those interested, registration for an online session can be found at https://opencoursesstore.d2l.com/product?catalog=msu_urmfs_2020 and more information about the Rural Resilience Program can be found at https://farmcredit.com/rural-resilience.

“We want people to know that [the online resources are] out there and just because you’re in a rural community doesn’t mean there’s not help out there for you,” Culler said.

Daubert said those who ever need support should call the extension.

"The extension is always here also as a resource in the local community," he said.

Contact Ian Munro at 574-6278 or imunro@dnronline.com. Follow Ian on Twitter @iamIanMunro

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