MITCHELL, S.D. — South Dakota leaders are advocating for a hotline to provide mental health assistance for farmers and ranchers who are dealing with stress from difficult agriculture conditions.

Avera Health, which has operated the hotline since January, is promoting its Farm and Rural Stress Hotline service to farmers and their families as a resource during the uncertain times facing the ag industry right now.

The hotline has been operating since January, and Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Amber Reints said the hotline has been receiving more calls recently.

The hotline number is 1-866-679-6425. The hotline is free, confidential, and staffed 24 hours a day by trained assessment counselors who can connect callers with local mental health resources.

Based on the phone conversations, Reints said counselors will direct callers to various resources wherever they can provide help, whether that’s through inpatient or outpatient resources, or potential medication.

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“This a very difficult time for farmers and ranchers and producers, and really the entire farm community,” said Reints, who has been with Avera Health for 12 years and is based in Sioux Falls. “In many cases, there’s family that works together to make the farm operation work, whether that’s spouses or children or relatives who are concerned about loved ones, they’re all people we’re thinking about. This is a really stressful time and there’s a lot of anxiety out there about the spring and how prices are going to look.”

Jim Woster, a longtime advocate for South Dakota agriculture and is a paid ambassador for Avera Health, said a lot of the comments from producers replicate the farm crisis of the 1980s. He said a farm hotline at that time was helpful, too.

“I went through the ’80s, and you get to know these people,” Woster said of farmers. “I started to hear the same stories I heard then and it dawned on me. I was saying it wasn’t as bad as then, but it really is.”

Woster, who grew up on a farm near Reliance, S.D., said he knows how the farm business can be one that can leave people feeling isolated, where a producer can be alone with their thoughts in a tractor for hours. Woster said he knows there can be a stigma with going to the doctor in a rural area, where everyone knows everyone.

“With depression, we talk more about it today than we did years ago. We treat it as a disease,” Woster said. “Farming is tough and people have all kinds of other things they’re working through, whether that’s dealing with the kids, or putting kids through college. Hopefully having the hotline, it can start a process of getting people help.”

Reints said treating mental health can be difficult because people generally approach it as something they can fix on their own.

“I think we’ve come a long ways with regards to stigma, but we still recognize that we have a long way to go,” she said. “There’s still some times where people are feeling some guilt and some shame and we want them to know that there’s no shame in asking for help. That’s what we’re there for.”

In a public service announcement shared by Avera Health, Gov. Kristi Noem spoke about the importance of speaking up for help.

“I farmed and ranched for many years in South Dakota, but what we’re seeing right now are difficult times: flood damage, wet fields, a difficult and unpredictable ag environment. These all add up to a heavy burden of stress,” Noem says, before reading off the hotline number.

Avera Health’s hotline is geared toward mental health, but can direct individuals to resources from South Dakota State University Extension for ag-specific and financial issues. The National Suicide Hotline is also available at 1-800-273-8255.