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Tester's new bill addresses mental health in ag community


September 26, 2019

Jon Tester

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., in a conference call Wednesday afternoon, announced his Seeding Rural Resilience Act, which will bring mental health resources and awareness to rural communities.

"As a farmer, I know firsthand the importance of family farm agriculture in rural America. But I also know that farming and ranching has never been easy," Tester said. "That difficulty can take a toll on producers because farming or ranching isn't just about making a buck - working the land that's been in your family for generations is a way of life in rural America."

Tester said that they have to tackle the challenges facing family farmers head-on and his new bill will do just that.

The bill will focus on three key points at curbing the growing rate of suicides in rural America, said a press release.

• Implements a Farmer-Facing Employee Training Program that requires the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide voluntary stress management training to Farm Service Agency, Risk Management Agency, and National Resources Conservation Service Employees.

• Forms a partnership between the Department of Health and Human Services and USDA to create a $3 million PSA to increase public awareness of farm and ranch stress and destigmatize mental health care in rural communities.

• Directs the Secretary of Agriculture to work with state, local and non-governmental stakeholders to collaborate and determine best practices for responding to farm and ranch mental stress.

"The reality is that farmers and ranchers are not the type to sit around and talk about their feelings," Tester said. "They don't let anything keep them from finishing the job. It is not unheard of to have a farmer finishing a day's work with a broken limb because they know if they don't do it that it won't get done. But the pressure is real and it can be overwhelming at times."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows farmer suicide rates are increasing and that the suicide rate is 45 percent higher in rural America than in urban areas.

Tester, the only working farmer in the Senate, said Montana has the highest suicide rate in the nation.

"The fact is, folks who live in Glasgow or Havre face higher barriers to access mental health resources than folks living in New York or Los Angeles," he said. "They face isolation, they have to travel further to receive basic health services, they are less likely to be insured, and they may know there are mental health resources available to them, but they do not know where."

He added that people who face these challenges are also made worse through lack of broadband coverage which limits people's ability to access online resources.

"My parents always said you got one mouth and two ears, act accordingly," Tester said. "We need to get more information from folks around rural America about how we can deliver the best tools to support them."

He said that the legislation is in a strong step toward addressing this crisis.

"There is no silver bullet, but my bill will provide better tools and resources for folks in rural communities to manage and reduce the stress that comes with this line of work."

He added that this is a stand-alone bill, but he is hopeful it will be implemented and will stimulate other programs and opportunities.


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