Article written by Ashlyn Johnson, Living Well Counseling
Let’s consider the topic of rural mental health today. While some concepts of mental health are universal, others are more specific based on geographic region, occupation, cultural and spiritual norms, etc. It is important to dive deeper into these specific issues affecting mental health so that people can feel more understood and deeply known.
Arkansas is considered a rural state within the United States. We are known for agriculture and farming land, being the top producer of rice in the U.S. and the third highest producer of cotton in the U.S. These are things for Arkansas to be proud of; however, there are also areas that we are struggling. Arkansas ranks 11 out of the 50 states for suicides each year.
Furthermore, the Arkansas Department of Agriculture reveals that the professions focused on agriculture, forestry, game and fish, etc. have the highest rates of suicide in the country. With Arkansas being a rural state with many people in careers focused on these areas, mental health and well-being must be addressed. As we consider these daunting statistics, we can still take heart. There is hope and healing that can take place as we navigate these issues, but we must have the right tools.
First, we must bring the issues to light and help those suffering in darkness. John 1:5 says, “The light [being Christ] shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Let us allow the light of Christ into the darkness that can affect those in rural areas. Often, people remain in the dark because they have barriers preventing them from getting help. Some of these barriers for those in rural areas include: the stigma associated with mental health issues, the potential judgment from others, accessibility to mental health care, cost of mental health care, and fear of not being understood by a provider. Digging deeper into these barriers, a survey of rural farming families was conducted by Jacqueline Holland that revealed additional evidence of the barriers listed above. She found that out of 692 participants, only 1% would seek a counselor as a reaction to a stressful event. Additionally, 40% of the participants revealed that they believed that struggling with mental health was a sign of weakness. Despite the responses from above, 83% shared that improving mental health was important to them. These statistics reveal that additional resources and opportunities need to be offered to rural communities so that mental health can be better understood, stigmas can be reduced, and culturally effective care be provided. It is common for people to want to improve their mental health, but they are unaware of how to access care and resources. Let’s change this!
Second, we must acknowledge warning signs and be prepared. We have acknowledged that those working in agriculture, forestry, and game and fish are at an increased risk of suicide. But what can we do about this? If you or someone you love works in these fields, increasing your knowledge of what healthy stress and unhealthy stress is can be a good start. Life will be stressful, but how we deal with the stress will impact our overall well-being. Be aware of how the people in your life are handling their stress. Do you notice increased irritability, increased drinking of alcohol, decreased pleasure in doing things that they previously enjoyed, change in sleeping patterns, or excessive worry? These could be warning signs that stress is becoming unhealthy and needs to be addressed. Working in the agriculture field takes dedication, strength, perseverance, and faithfulness. It is possible to carry these attributes and still be battling with the negative impact of unhealthy amounts of stress. Seeking help is not weakness – in fact, it is a demonstration of strength, because there is desire to continue growing, healing, and preventing future difficulty. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:8-9, “But he said to me, ‘my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” If there are warning signs in your life or the life of someone you love, rest knowing that the power of Christ is available in the midst of the darkness. Rural families often keep issues to themselves in fear of what others in their communities might think, but do not let these warning signs go unnoticed.
Next, implement healthy habits. If warning signs are noticed, it is important to take action. Healthy habits include taking care of your body through exercise and healthy foods when possible, identifying an outlet for fun, getting 7-9 hours of sleep at night, and spending time with friends and family. These might seem like simple tasks, but high levels of stress can lead to a decrease in these activities. These are practical things that you can do on your own, but additional care through counseling might be necessary. Counseling can be a healthy habit as well. A farmer from Kansas states in a recent article, “Forget what the neighbors might think – getting professional help can ease a great amount of pressure.” People like him are reducing the stigma bit by bit.
Lastly, be aware of the already present resources. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Rural areas are often underrepresented and underserved; however, Arkansas is stepping up. There are resources available for you. Below are some resources that are present for families in agriculture, as well as rural communities in general. It is as quick as a phone call or clicking a link.
- Living Well Professional Counseling – now serving Arkansas families through affordable Christian counseling from 29 locations across the state, with telehealth services available for those who do not have a location nearby. Phone 877-455-8554
- Agri Health Network – providing stress assistance to farmers, ranchers, and other agriculture professionals.
Arkansas Department of Agriculture. https://www.agriculture.arkansas.gov/farm-stress-mental-health-in-agriculture/
Arkansas Foundation for Suicide Prevention. https://afsp.org/facts/arkansas
Farm Bureau of Arkansas. https://www.arfb.com/pages/education/ag-facts/
Farm Futures Mid-October 2022 Publication. https://editions.mydigitalpublication.com/publication/?m=68357&i=764714&p=26&ver=html5