Sunset over field

Mastering mental health on the farm

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Observed every year in May, Mental Health Awareness Month is a crucial opportunity to prioritize mental wellness in the workplace. And what workplace is more challenging than life on the farm?

Admittedly, the farm is a wonderful place to be. Karen Leavitt Stallman, SIU Medicine’s Farm Family Resource Initiative Program Coordinator and Ag Resource Specialist, grew up on a farm and knows this well. “I love spring on our farm in Randolph County. We see nature waking up. New calves are born. Fields are planted. What I enjoy most are the many morel mushrooms in the woods,” Stallman says. “But, from growing up on a farm, I know that life can be very stressful.”

For the past few years, the topic of mental health has become more prevalent. Constant change and stress compounded by the pandemic have left many people feeling depressed or anxious – to the point where it affects their health. Farmers and those involved in agriculture are not immune to these challenges. Stallman calls it the “drip, drip, drip” of chronic stress. “There are so many things farmers cannot control: commodity prices, input costs, the weather, health problems and so much more.” 

“When I was young, my father baled a lot of alfalfa that we sold out of the field. I remember having an entire field ready for a buyer to pick up, and a gray cloud would develop so quickly, and all those bales would get wet. I always wondered how my father could keep from crying. We just continued on and hoped for better weather with the next cutting,” remembers Stallman.

Now when dealing with those stressors, SIU Medicine has many programs to assist farmers and their families and to train medical professionals to understand the specific needs of those in rural areas.

Farm Family Resource Initiative (FFRI)
FFRI is a network of support and resources for farmers and their families, including a helpline (1-833-FARM-SOS). The confidential 24/7 helpline connects you to health professionals specializing in ag-related stress. This means you are talking to medical professionals living in Illinois who can relate to the local economy, weather and other daily stressors specific to farming and our region.

In addition to text, email and website services, telehealth counseling sessions are available for those in need of additional support. Up to six individual, couple or group sessions are available. All FFRI services are offered at no cost to the farmer or farm family member with the support of grant funding.

AgriSafe Nurse Scholar Program

This program is available to rural nurses through on-demand webinars, increasing their knowledge in the prevention, identification and assessment of diseases related to agricultural work exposures. Find more details by visiting

Mental health care is not a luxury and seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Please check on friends, family members and neighbors regularly. Spread the word about FFRI and encourage others to reach out and talk to someone. It may save the life of someone you know.

This Mental Health Awareness Month, let us continue to advocate for mental health care and support in the agricultural community and beyond. Let us work together to break down the stigma surrounding mental health and encourage those who may be struggling to reach out for help. Together, we can promote healing and well-being for all. A healthy farm needs a healthy farmer. Find more information about the FFRI at

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