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Helpline created to give mental health assistance to farmers

The CDC reports suicide rates have increased 46% in rural America, compared to a 27.3% increase in metro areas.

BELTON, Texas — Farmers have been dealt a handful of struggles over the last two decades, from constant changes in the weather to ups and downs in the economy. 

Owner of Baker's Ranch Dudley Baker says agriculture is a struggling industry and young people are shying away from wanting to be apart of it.

"The old days of the independent farmer are getting harder and harder. Corporations around America and around Texas are taking over the farming and ranching," Baker said.

With the agriculture industry already strained for resources, it's been hard for most farmers to persevere through the many challenges.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Rural Health Association reports suicide rates have increased 46% in rural communities with farmers being three-and-a-half times more likely to commit suicide than the general population.

To help lower those statistics, the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDOA) created a hotline specifically for the community it serves.

"It's incredibly important to be able to have this resource and working to shift the culture to let them know t's ok to ask for help. We want to be a place where these farmers can turn to," TDOA rural health specialist Trish Rivera shared. 

The Farmer Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Program is a toll-free hotline and was created in 2021 with 250 people currently working there. 

The program takes about 60 calls per month and is staffed by licensed mental health professionals who specialize in assisting people who work specifically in agriculture. It connects agriculture workers with mental health specialists near them as well as acts as a listening ear for those who need it.

The program is hoping to sustain the program and receive $500,000 a year from the Texas government. The money would help pay for the helpline for all workers in the agricultural industry, their families and people in their communities. 

"We know those working in this industry may feel isolated and go through a lot we don't know about. This is why the help line is so essential and we hope to keep it going," University of Tyler Southwest Ag Center content strategist Shelbie Lambert shared.

For anyone in the agriculture industry in need of support or help with mental health, the helpline number is 833-897-2474.

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