Bill Aims To Improve Farmers’ Mental Health
As a part of his continued effort to improve mental health resources in rural Montana, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., introduced his bipartisan Farmers First Act of 2023 to reauthorize the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network and connect farmers, ranchers and other agricultural workers with stress assistance programs and resources.
“As a third generation Montana farmer, I know how stressful production ag can be – and getting producers the mental health resources they need is critical to keeping our rural communities strong,” said Tester. “Family farming and ranching is often a challenging and isolating business, so when conditions turn sour or a crop gets wiped out, it’s important that folks in production ag have somewhere to turn. By reauthorizing the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network we’ll ensure that folks have access to life saving resources and are able to manage the stress that comes with production ag.”
Tester’s Farmers First Act will reauthorize FRSAN, a program that connects farmers, ranchers, and other agriculture workers to stress assistance programs and resources. Through FRSAN, state departments of agriculture, state extension services, and non-profits receive funding to establish helplines, provide suicide prevention training for farm advocates, and create support groups for farmers and farm workers. The Farmers First Act would increase funding for the program, authorizing $15 million per year for the program for the next five years, up from $10 million.
According to the National Rural Health Association, the rate of suicide among farmers is three and a half times higher than among the general population. A Morning Consult poll found that during 2021, most farmers and farm workers (61%) and rural adults (52%) reported experiencing more stress and mental health challenges compared to the prior year. The same poll also found that while the stigma around seeking help or treatment for mental health has decreased, it remains a factor, especially in agriculture.
Tester successfully fought to reauthorize FRSAN in the 2018 farm bill, and through his work as a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, he has successfully led the bipartisan push to fully fund FRSAN at $10 million annually since 2018.
As a third generation farmer, Tester has long been an advocate for increased mental health resources for rural America and passed his Seeding Rural Resilience Act in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. The legislation fights high rates of suicide in rural America by: Implementing a Farmer- Facing Employee Training Program that provides voluntary stress management training to Farm Service Agency, Risk Management Agency, and National Resources Conservation Service employees; Forming a partnership between the Department of Health and Human Services and the United States Department of Agriculture to create a $3 million public service announcement campaign to increase public awareness of farm and ranch stress and destigmatize mental health care in rural communities; and Directing the Secretary of Agriculture to work with state, local, and nongovernmental stakeholders to determine best practices for responding to farm and ranch mental stress.
Anyone experiencing a mental health crisis can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 at 988.