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Project Started To Help Montana Farmers Combat Stress

Survey results have shown Montana State University researchers that farmers and ranchers throughout Montana and the West experience, on average, a medium level of stress, which could impact their sleep, physical health, mental health and/ or relationships, according to Michelle Grocke, health and wellness specialist with MSU Extension and assistant professor in the MSU Department of Health and Human Development.

Agricultural stress can be caused by a range of issues, she said, including commodity prices, weather, crop yield, debt, passing a farm or ranch to the next generation, family issues, injuries and illness. She added that it can lead to mental illness, increased risk of suicide and other health issues.

Grocke and her collaborators have launched several projects to help combat this stress. These efforts include a website that provides resources, a program that provides mini-grants for people across the Western U.S. who want to improve the mental wellness of those in their agricultural communities and a project that provides free telehealth counseling services to any Montanan working in agriculture.

“MSU Extension is trying to reach people where they’re at and make information accessible to them,” Grocke said. “If we want to help Montanans – especially if they’re not going to be the ones knocking on our door asking (for help) – it seems like a really good place to focus our energy and time.”

In 2019, a group of individuals and organizations from across Montana, led by MSU Extension and first funded by the Montana Healthcare Foundation, collaborated to provide resources and solutions for farmers and ranchers under stress. The team, known as the Montana Farm/ Ranch Stress Prevention Advisory Council, created a website that hosts resources for farmers, ranchers and community members to better understand the causes of stress and how to manage it. The website is called the Montana Farm and Ranch Stress Resource Clearinghouse, and it includes stress management information and links to telehealth counseling services across Montana. Since its launch in the summer of 2020, more than 14,000 people have visited it, Grocke said. The website can be found at montana. edu/extension/wellness/ stress-management/ mt_farm_stress_clearing_ house/.

“We’re trying to add a lot of videos and podcasts and be more creative in how we’re getting content out to Montanans,” Grocke said.

In addition, a USDA-backed Western Regional Agricultural Stress Assistance Project, or WRASAP, has funded research and provided minigrants for people across the West who want to improve mental wellness in agricultural communities.

The $7.1 million WRASAP grant, of which Grocke is one of the leaders, is a collaboration among individuals and organizations from 13 Western states and four territories.

The goals of the grant include conducting research to learn more about causes of stress and desired assistance, creating and providing stress management outreach and education to farmers and ranchers based on those research findings, creating a collaborative network of individuals working toward a shared goal, and providing direct services to farmers and ranchers, including a hotline where individuals can call and talk about their issues and get connected to counseling as appropriate.

A portion of the grant funded research reports on each state and territory, as well as one region-wide written report, Grocke noted. Those reports can be found at data-collection/. Now, the WRASAP group is using the research to create outreach and educational programs, including online, self-paced classes, webinars and podcasts, as well as opportunities for training, mental health first aid and suicide prevention training known as QPR.


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