DODGE CITY — “Sometimes people don’t know what they don’t know,” best summarized the frustration expressed Wednesday night by attendees of the Women in Agriculture Farm Financial Series at the Ford County Fairgrounds.
The class was the second of four made possible by Kansas State University Research and Extension, which broadcast live lectures online by K-State ag experts to 32 locations across the state.
The topic of discussion centered on the resources available to help producers cope with stress, or rather, the lack of resources available to those who live in remote locations outside the catchment area of community mental health care providers like Compass Behavioral Health.
Vicki Broz, region 2 director for Compass, was present to share mental health literature and to learn from the attendees how they maintain healthy human connections.
“You need to teach us about the farm crisis,” Broz said. “Who do you reach out to when your coping skills aren’t enough?”
K-State Extension agent Andrea Burns described western Kansas as a “blank oasis for available mental health providers for producers.”
Women often experience higher levels of stress than men, according to a Compass flyer. Besides working as a full partner in the farm business, many farm women are traditionally expected to have full responsibility for home and family matters.
Some also have an off-farm job, which results in juggling a multitude of different roles and trying to cope with a wide variety of different stressors.
“We’re a resilient group in southwest Kansas,” Burns said. “But sometimes you do feel like you’re at your wits' end.”
The average farm size in Kansas is 2,400 acres, and 1,600 of those are crop lands, Burns said.
Farming is considered one of the top 10 most stressful occupations in the United States, and farmers have the highest rate of suicide of all occupational groups, according to a Compass flyer.
Rural stress is a community problem that touches everyone whose life, livelihood and identity is linked to the land and agriculture, said Elaine Johannes, a K-State Extension specialist from Salina, in a lecture titled “This stress is different.”
Anyone can learn to recognize “spillover stress,” which is caused by additional pressures that factor in on top of normal stress.
It may present itself in the warning signs of suicide, such as anxiety, anger and depression, Johannes said.
“Think of yourself as a learner, a leader and a listener,” she said. “Share your resources and brainstorm what your community might do about farm stress.”