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Mental health care in rural America

Mental health workers operating under the organization “Sharing Health Awareness United Network (SHAUN),” have worked to address concerns about access to mental health care in rural areas. For the past two years,  the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy and the Federal Bureau of Primary Health Care provided each of seven Midwest states with $50,000 to improve mental health support services for farmers and their families. Each state developed an approach to serving mental health needs of farmers in their particular circumstances.

SHAUN, based in Iowa, leveraged their “Sowing the Seeds of Hope” funds from the federal agencies with Farm Foundation funding to develop a curriculum about agricultural mental health. That curriculum has been piloted to train outreach workers and mental health providers to work with the farm population.

These programs served as catalysts to attract additional resources within each state. For example, the Minnesota legislature appropriated $750,000 for outreach workers and necessary support services in northwest Minnesota and other locales where farmers were distressed. In Nebraska, a small state appropriation was combined with Sowing the Seeds of Hope funds for the purchase of mental health service vouchers.

In Iowa, funds were obtained from the Iowa Department of Human Services to assist with the training of outreach workers and mental health providers. In addition, funds were obtained by the Iowa State University Extension Service to improve the liaison of extension staff with mental health providers throughout the state. However, the requests for mental health and substance abuse treatment funds have far exceeded available funding. Those most in need of assistance often lack adequate health insurance funding to pay for professional assistance. Outreach workers have largely volunteered their time and there have been inadequate funds to pay their expenses. A regional center is needed to provide technical expertise such as agricultural mental health training to the many agencies and organizations across the seven states that work with farm and ranch families. There is also need for a systematic research effort to evaluate the effectiveness of various interventions and to teach best practices.

Farm Foundation provided funding to a project to resolve the gap in service and exchange of knowledge that was coordinated by AgriWellness, a partnership of state government, state-supported universities, the faith community and rural volunteers committed to improving hope and health for Iowa families in agricultural production.

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