RCIS leader Linda Hood to join panel discussion to help lift stigma on farmers getting help for mental health challenges.
Linda Hood observes the stresses of farming from both professional and personal vantage points. She is Director of Operations-Production for Zurich’s crop insurance business, RCIS. She also married into a farming and ranching family.
Hood, who lives in North Carolina, knows stoicism is prevalent in agricultural communities, where everyone knows everyone and therapists can be in short supply. Those factors can conspire to keep farmers and ranchers quiet about mental health challenges.
“Risks in farming are an inherent part of the business,” Hood says. “Farmers are at the mercy of Mother Nature, commodity prices and events happening globally that they can’t control. These things are really stressful, and talking openly about these issues and seeking help remains a high hurdle for them.”
It’s one reason Hood stepped up to support #AgMentalHealthWeek in 2021, started by a dairy farmer in Ireland, Peter Hynes, and his wife. They have planned virtual activities for Oct. 10-16, including a panel discussion that will include Hood, to help lift the stigma from seeking help for mental health issues and to raise awareness of resources to help farmers who are struggling.
Hood believes in the mission for many reasons.
“Mental health is important to me because it has touched my family in every way I can think of," Hood said. “My nephew took his own life after dealing with long-term pain and depression, which has certainly impacted my family ever since.”
“Talking openly about these issues and
seeking help remains a high hurdle for them.”
Farmers are among the most likely people to die by suicide, compared with other occupations, according to a 2020 report from USA TODAY Network and the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting. From 2014 to 2018, more than 450 farmers died of suicide across nine Midwestern states while calls to Farm Aid's crisis hotline doubled, according to the report.
One reason Hynes started Ag Mental Health Week is that he previously struggled with depression.
“I spoke openly about it in 2017 and I along with my wife have done all we can since to raise awareness,” he said. “Farm safety gets more discussion, but increased mental health awareness actually leads to safer farms too, as farmers will have better focus if they prioritize their mental well-being.”
Hynes said when he first spoke of mental health on social media, he was overwhelmed by people who reached out saying they were suffering. “That was a huge eye opener that if I could speak more openly it might be able to help people get pointed in the right direction and get back in a better place,” Hynes said.
He and his wife have since spoken at conferences, universities and other venues, along with conceiving Ag Mental Health Week. They scheduled it for the week following World Mental Health Day on Oct. 10. (Search and follow #AgMentalHealthWeek on social media channels for more information on virtual events and resources.)
One silver lining of the coronavirus pandemic is that it has opened the door a bit wider to conversations about mental health.
“We are all just a moment away from somebody else’s crisis or a situation that might cause a crisis for us,” Hood said. “The more we can be empathetic, listen and know what resources are available to help, the better we can be at supporting mental wellbeing among each other and our customers.”
Hood serves on the board of the Zurich employee resource group called AbilitieZ, which is helping to call attention to mental health issues across all occupations during National Disability Employment Awareness Month through October. With support of AbilitieZ, Zurich offers employees Mental Health First Aid training, which teaches how to recognize and approach a colleague, family member, friend or other individual who may be experiencing a mental health or substance use challenge or crisis, and to help connect the person with appropriate resources to help.
Hood will speak about that and more at the Agri Industry panel, scheduled to be streamed live on Facebook at @AgMentalHealthWeek, at 1 p.m. CT Thursday, Oct. 14.
Where to get help now
24/7 help: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273- 8255 or dial 211 for a comprehensive hotline that connects callers with local resources.
Monday - Friday, 9 a.m.- 5 p.m. ET: Farm Aid Hotline at 800-FARM-AID (327-6243)