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David Baxter

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Hot lines Provide Much-Needed Mental Health Care in Rural Areas
Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Farmers lives can be lonely and stressful, yet, as we've discussed in the past, few mental health care services are available in rural areas. Often, farmers must travel long distances for mental health care, and stigmas still prevent some from seeking help at all. Because of this, many farmers never receive treatment or support for their problems. Fortunately, many religious groups, universities, and nonprofit organizations now operate free and confidential mental health hot lines. The mental health care services made available through these hot lines have provided thousands of rural residents with treatment they might not have received otherwise.

Farmers cope with a tremendous amount of stress on a daily basis, and it's not surprising that many suffer from depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and other mental illnesses as a result. Adverse weather conditions, like the drought that has plagued the American southwest this year, often affect crop production for years. Working on a farm can also be an isolating experience, as farmers often work alone and live in secluded areas. Farming is unpredictable by its very nature, and farmers know that matters out of their control could easily destroy their livelihood. Problems can add up, and when farmers cannot address the state of their mental health, the combined force of mental illness and stress can become overwhelming. The rate of suicide among rural men is significantly higher than rates among urban men.

Mental health hot lines are a step in the right direction and provide farmers who do not have access to other mental health care with valuable resources. They can receive vouchers for therapy sessions, be referred to a mental health professional, find a support group, or talk with a financial expert who can help them manage their bills. Agriwellness, a nonprofit organization operating hot lines in Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin, receives an average of 12,000 to 14,000 calls each year.

When farmers receive help for mental illnesses, they are better able to cope with and find solutions for their problems. When they can discuss their problems with someone else, farmers feel less isolated, and this makes hot lines an important form of therapy in areas where mental health care services are scarce. Individuals from these areas would also benefit from treatment and support delivered over the web. Websites like Treatment Online provide tools, like internet communities, and contain interactive features to make remote therapy as effective as more traditional forms of therapy. More mental health care services are needed in rural areas, but therapy and support dispensed over the phone and over the internet will remain crucial options for those in underserved areas.
 

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