GEORGIA – Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Tyler Harper has addressed Georgia mental health advocates on the importance of mental health awareness as part of Mental Health Day at the Georgia Capitol. Harper emphasized the importance of mental health awareness for all Georgians, but especially those working in the food and agriculture sectors.
“The Department has been working closely with many partner agencies to educate and provide resources to farmers and rural Georgians,” Commissioner Harper said. “We recognize that to address these challenges it will take all of us working together to support our farmers, veteran farmers, producers, and agriculture families. It starts by being aware of self and doing whatever it takes to address signs and symptoms of mental health, getting help if we need it, and checking in and supporting those around us in need.”
Harper noted that rural stress and farmer and producer stress is at a critical point when we recognize that Georgia farmers are experiencing depression, loneliness, and suicide. The Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center at Mercer University School of Medicine surveyed Georgia farmers last year and over a quarter of those surveyed admitted to considering suicide at least once per month. Harper emphasized that it is equally as important that we check on the youth in our farming and agribusiness operations. Mental and behavioral health signs and symptoms can start as early as birth to age 5 and impact individuals through their teen years and beyond.
“We recognize that improvements have been made with historic mental health legislation last year, but we must continue to educate Georgians on the warning signs and continue to improve access to treatment,” said Commissioner Harper.
In Fall 2021, the Georgia Department of Agriculture received a grant from USDA-National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to increase outreach throughout the state and promote options for farmer stress. The Farmer Ranch Stress Assistance Network, State Departments of Agriculture (FRSAN-SDA) project is focusing on a Georgia Healthy Farmer Mindset that is taking a holistic approach to addressing stress and mental health challenges to the farming community. This is a collaborative initiative with project partners including the Georgia Department of Agriculture, The University of Georgia (UGA), AgriSafe, McClendon Law and Consulting, the Georgia Farm Bureau, the Georgia PTA, HERO Agriculture, STAGVETS, the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH), the Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center, and the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities (DBHDD).
“We are asking citizens to wear green today in honor of Mental Health Day at the Capitol to promote a healthier and more resilient Georgia,” said Venessa Sims, Director of Emergency Management. “Check on those in your circle and encourage awareness of signs and symptoms of stress and mental health.”
To provide more ways to support the agriculture community, a coalition of partners created the Georgia Agricultural Wellness Alliance who work together with a common goal of aligning efforts to improve the well-being of farmers and farming communities in Georgia. If you are interested in joining, you can visit https://GFB.ag/gawa for more information.
The Georgia Crisis and Access Line is available at 1-800-715-4225 (language assistance available). Help is also available by calling local cooperative extension offices or one can visit https://dbhdd.georgia.gov/access-services to access crisis services. People can DIAL 988 or go to the website at 988ga.org if you are in distress, feel like there may be a risk of suicide, or are having a crisis related to mental health, substance use, or a developmental disability.
Free bookmarks and business card-sized handouts geared toward agriculture, food service, and hospitality sector employees are available at https://agr.georgia.gov/disaster-relief. Additional agriculture mental health resources can be found at https://agrisafe.org/healthcare/mental-health and at https://extension.uga.edu/topic-areas/timely-topics/Rural.html. For our Veterans and Veteran Farmers, the Department of Veterans Affairs established 1-800-MyVA411 (1-800-698-2411) in 2020 to help Veterans, their family members, caregivers, and survivors understand and access the broad spectrum of VA benefits and services