The often-taboo topic of mental health among farmers hits close to home for Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, who lost his wife of 40 years, Bonnie, to cancer on Jan. 18. Speaking at the Commodity Classic in San Antonio a little more than a month later, Duvall described his emotional turmoil after her death.
“The first two weeks, I held a lot of that inside of me, and I almost exploded. Then I started talking about it, and it made me feel better,” Duvall said, his voice trembling. “There’s nothing shameful about it. We love our farmers and neighbors. We want them to have a relief valve and a place to find some help.”
This personal revelation came during a Feb. 27 press conference in which Duvall and Lisa Safarian, president of Bayer Crop Science for North America, announced that the American Farm Bureau would take over administration of Bayer’s Farm State of Mind campaign. The initiative was created last year to provide information and resources on mental health to the farming community, and Safarian said transitioning the program to Farm Bureau will greatly expand its reach and effectiveness.
“We felt strongly that we needed to identify another organization to help take this to the next level,” she said. “Farm Bureau is the right choice to drive this important work forward.”
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and farmers are a particularly high-risk population for stress and suicide, Duvall said. In a 2019 survey conducted by Farm Bureau, nearly half of rural adults said they are personally experiencing more mental health challenges than they were a year ago. At the same time, farmers are two times less likely than other rural adults to talk to a friend or family member about solutions for a mental health condition.
Farm Bureau will combine the Farm State of Mind assets with its ongoing Rural Resilience campaign. Together, the programs are designed to encourage open dialogue and offer tips, resources and referrals for mental health needs.
“In our conversations about mental stress and mental health, we hope that we can show our farmers and our rural communities that it’s OK to talk about it,” Duvall said. “Our farmers can’t carry this burden alone. We need to talk about it to each other. We need to lean on each other.”
Find more information online at www.fb.org/programs/ rural-resilience.