Dairy farmers care deeply about their land and animals which can result in significant stress.
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Amanda Stone, dairy specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, studies the herd at the MSU Bearden Dairy Unit and brings the latest research-based information to the state’s dairy producers. (Mississippi State University Ext)

“You work hard to make sure your animals are comfortable, sacrificing your own well-being a lot of times to enhance the well-being of the animals,” said Amanda Stone, assistant professor and dairy specialist at Mississippi State University Extension.

“Producers often overlook themselves because they think they don’t have it the worst, so they don’t have the right to be stressed,” said Stone during a webinar hosted by Hoard’s Dairyman. “But that’s not true because everybody experiences stress.”

All people have a chapter in their life story that they don’t want to read aloud, Stone said.

“It might be happening now, it may have happened 10 years ago or you may not have experienced your worst chapter to date,” she said. “But everybody has difficult times and most people don’t want to talk about those times.”

Farmers are resilient, Stone said.

“That’s one of the things I love about dairy producers and admire most about them,” she said. “You guys can come back from the hardest times and keep going which is a great quality to have.”

However, Stone said, dairymen have been dealt a bad hand lately and there are a lot of things for them to be stressed about.

“It’s OK not to be OK,” she said.

Most people don’t know what to do when someone is having a mental health crisis.

“If someone was having a heart attack you would help them even if you don’t know how to do CPR, you’d get someone to help them,” Stone said. “That’s what we need to think about for mental health.”

Mental and physical health are often considered differently by people.

“I say the heart is not more important than the brain because if your brain isn’t working, your body isn’t working,” Stone said. “The brain controls everything your body does.”

Farm accidents are not always accidents, Stone said.

“That’s hard to hear, but some farming accidents are suicide attempts and we need to think about that,” Stone said.

“Farmers are dying by suicide at a higher rate than the general population because they have easy access to lethal means like guns and they have little to no access to mental health care,” she said.

Stone stressed that dairymen should not pretend like they are OK during difficult situations.

“You don’t need to hit rock bottom to start climbing to the top, but you may need someone to throw you a rope,” she said.

Telling someone to simply snap out of it is not helpful.

“You wouldn’t tell a deaf person to listen harder or you wouldn’t tell someone with a broken leg to use the other leg,” Stone said. “So, let’s stop doing this to people who need mental help.”

Mental Health First Aid is a course that teaches people skills to help someone who is developing a mental health problem or who is experiencing a mental health crisis.

“This program teaches people to understand, identify and respond to signs of mental health crisis,” said Stone, who is a trained instructor for this program. “It makes you an expert noticer, but it does not make you a therapist.”

The course uses a five step strategy named ALGEE that means:

A — Access for risk of suicide or harm.

L — Listen non-judgmentally.

G — Give reassurance and information.

E — Encourage appropriate professional help.

E — Encourage self help and other support strategies.

“Sometimes people are afraid to confront someone they think might be experiencing a mental health crisis and they don’t want to ask the question about suicide,” Stone said. “Training helps guide you through what to do if you hear yes to a question about suicide.”

Most suicidal people show signs of their plans, Stone said.

“Sometimes we don’t see the signs,” she said. “But sometimes it is a direct, verbal warning such as ‘If something doesn’t happen, I’m going to kill myself’ or ‘I wish I was dead.’”

Stone stressed to always take these signs seriously.

“The more signs you see the greater the risk, but take all signs seriously and act on them,” she said.

Additional warning signs of suicide include preoccupation with death whether it is with animals or people, being anxious and depressed, changes in sleep or eating of more or less, substance abuse, previous suicide attempts, getting personal affairs in order, purchasing more life insurance, giving away prized possessions, a sudden interest or disinterest in religion, drug or alcohol abuse and unexplained anger, aggression or irritability.

“All of these things can happen for a variety of reasons such as major life changes or financial problems,” Stone said.

“When in doubt, you have to ask the question, ‘Are you thinking about killing yourself?’ Then let that person talk freely, try not to be judgmental and don’t try to make it seem like it’s not a big deal because it is a big deal.”

In addition, it is important to have resources ready such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

“Don’t make threats to them or send them on a guilt trip,” Stone said. “They are already in deep, dark despair so sending them on a guilt trip is not going to help.”

Report reinforces progress across environmental impact, animal care nutrition and food security.

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