Access to healthcare in rural communities is often limited, mental health even more so. South Carolina Farm Bureau recently announced a new program called SC AgriWellness that will bring mental health services into farmers’ homes.SC AgriWellness, administered by First Sun EAP, will make counseling services available to South Carolina farmers and their families, free of charge. By providing access to a wealth of professional services, SC AgriWellness is a resource to support farmers as they navigate the many issues contributing to overwhelming stress affecting the well-being of South Carolina farmers and farm families.
To ensure that these services meet the specific needs of the agricultural community, the staff of First Sun participated in a training offered by Dr. Kantrovich that provided them with what has led to the present crises and the intricacies of South Carolina agriculture, who makes up South Carolina farms, and what South Carolina family farms are experiencing.
Maria Lund, President and COO of First Suntook part in the training. “I was surprised by how many different challenges the farmers and their families have,” she said. “I had a sense about natural challenges but did not know the depth of market and business challenges. We were all surprised by the impacts of passing the farm through generations on the business and the farm family.”
The top priority for this service is making sure it meets farmers’ specific needs. “SC AgriWellnesshas great potential to be helpful, and I hope people will use it,” said Dr. Kantrovich. “Farmers can access these services on their own time and they can do it from a place where they feel comfortable.”
Acknowledging that you might need help is the first step in achieving mental wellness.
“Every time I do this program for farmers, there are always individuals that approach me after the presentation and tell me that this has a huge amount of meaning and that it was beneficial,” said Dr. Kantrovich. “This helps me know that we’re on the right track and that we need to do more of it. But I know that first step is the hardest one to take.”
Josh Baxley remembers, “Before any of this happened, I never talked about stress. I thought, ‘I’m a 35-year old man, and I’m responsible enough to take care of my own problems.’ It never crossed my mind that I might need to talk to someone about what was going on.”
But now he does, and it’s just one of the ways that he’s managing his stress.
“At the end of the day, when you go home, you have to transition when you walk in your doorstep out of farming mode to ‘ok, I’m home with my kids and my wife,’” advises Josh.
“Farmers always carry this with us; we carry it to church on Sunday, carry it to parties with our friends. I have friends that work a “regular job” who don’t carry their job home with them, so I tried to apply that to farming.”
Other good habits include having a network of people who understand your situation and communicating with them regularly; developing a plan of succession for the farm; and making a plan for your family if something were to happen to you.
That succession is a burden that is very unique to farming. Josh is still farming with his dad and brother, and hopes that his daughter Halle (10) and son Cully (6) will be able to continue on with the farm.
“In farming, your legacy is stronger than in any other occupation. We till the earth, we work the land that God gave us and it is a big deal to be able to work the land that your great-grandfather bought or settled,” said Josh.
“Farmers are the root of the earth and that means an awful lot to my family, and to me. That’s a part of that subconscious stress that we deal with every day – carrying on traditions and heritages that are part of us. It’s one of the biggest aspects of our stress as farmers in America. It’s not easy to deal with, but people really need to seek help.”