Dairy farming is nonstop, and sometimes so is the stress. High inflation, labor issues and working alongside family all can take a toll on a farmer’s mental health.
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The Wisconsin Farm Center has resources available. Learn more at: visit datcp.wi.gov (Farm Journal)

Fifth-generation dairy farmers, Sam and Brittany Olson, have been open and outspoken with their own mental health struggles and believe that their own experience serves as someone else’s survival guide.

“Sharing your own struggles can help others,” Brittany says. “But only if you’re willing to talk about them.”

Sam and Brittany own and operate a 40-cow dairy in Barron County, Wis. The couple’s six-month-old son, Titus, represents the sixth generation.

Olson Family

Brittany has lived with anxiety, panic attacks, and depression since childhood. Her mother was physically and verbally abusive, and by the time her father got primary custody of her and her sister, a lifetime of damage had already been done.

She says while the downs of dairy farming didn’t trigger the onset of her mental illness, it certainly does exacerbate it at times.

“I struggle with uncertainties and unknowns, which are prevalent in the life I’ve chosen,” she says.

Utilizing Their Resources 

The Olson’s were asked by Wisconsin’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection’s (DATCP) Farm Center if they would be interested if they would be interested in becoming peer leaders for their online farmer support groups. They, along with a handful of other farmer advocates from across the state, completed an intensive weekend-long training program with the Wisconsin chapter of the National Alliance of Mental Health (NAMI).

Brittany wants to remind everyone that help is available.

“There are people who will drop what they’re doing to listen,” Brittany says. “I would rather have you come unglued in front of me than wish I could put the pieces back together while I’m listening to your eulogy.”

The couple reminds dairy farmers that they are so much more than what they do for a living.

“It tends to be difficult for farmers to decouple their identity from their work because it’s so much more than just a job,” she says. “You matter, your life has a purpose, and you are loved.”

Available Resources

The Wisconsin Farm Center has five main programs to help farmers and their families access mental health resources.

  • 24/7 Wisconsin Farmer Wellness Helpline (888-901-2558)
  • Counseling Vouchers
  • Tele-Counseling
  • Online Farmer Support Groups
  • Rural Realities Podcast

“If there’s someone in your life that is struggling mentally, please make a point to check in with them,” Brittany says.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 9-8-8.

To learn more about the resources available through the Wisconsin Farm Center, visit datcp.wi.gov.

Dairy farmers still reeling from floods have been given a helping hand, with the state and federal governments locking in funding for key projects to prepare for the next disaster.

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