Farmers want face-to-face talks, not hotlines, about mental health

The research could help inform and improve outreach efforts to farmers about mental health.

Josie Rudolphi.jpg
Josie Rudolphi, assistant professor of agricultural and biological engineering at the University of Illinois, found that farmers prefer to receive mental health information face-to-face, from family and friends. Submitted / University of Illinois

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- Farmers don’t want to get help for their mental health from the internet or phone hotlines, new research shows. Instead, face-to-face conversations are what matters most, with family, friends and others, recent research indicates.

The study, conducted by University of Illinois professor Josie Rudolphi and several other researchers, surveyed 300 farmers in three counties in central Wisconsin.

The research found those who responded to the survey most wanted to get information about mental health from licensed medical providers as well as from spouses, family members and friends.

The least favored source of information included social media, the internet or phone support lines, results that surprised Rudolphi considering the plethora of information available from those sources.

"Farmers want information face-to-face, and they want it from their innermost circle," said Rudolphi. "Equipping those people with as much information as possible to deal with the stress and subsequent mental health issues of our farmers is important. These results really help us inform dissemination and creation of future resources."


The research could help inform and improve outreach efforts to farmers about mental health. Numerous states, including North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota are watching with alarm as the number of completed suicides outstrips those seen in past decades. Numerous largely rural states are mobilizing programs, including face-to-face training, mental health hotlines and online resources, to help those in rural areas struggling with mental health concerns.

Rudolphi is an assistant professor of agricultural and biological engineering at the University of Illinois. She works with the Marshfield Clinic Research Institute in central Wisconsin, which funded Rudolphi's survey, to deliver a program called Mental Health First Aid to local communities. The program aims to reduce stigma and train people to help others suffering from mental health issues.

Her research looked to see if farmers, who might turn to bankers, extension personnel, insurance agents and others for agricultural health and safety information, would look to the same people for help with mental health concerns. The survey showed that no, farmers won't turn to the same people for mental health advice.

However, properly trained, those people could, as part of a farmer's close network of support, be a ready and trusted source of mental health information. Rudolphi said she plans to replicate the research in Illinois, and it could point to ways to expand the network of people farmers trust for mental health information -- again, in a face-to-face way.

"It's much more labor intensive; the quick and easy solution would be to host and post a webinar that could have wide reach. But I think it speaks to this population; they're still a very close-knit group. They really rely on face-to-face contact; that's much more valuable to them," she said.

The farmers' median age was 56, and they were predominantly male and white -- roughly comparable with most farmers in the U.S.

Rudolphi's article, "Who and How: Exploring the Preferred Senders and Channels of Mental Health Information for Wisconsin Farmers," was recently published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Richard Berg and Barbara Malenga of the Marshfield Clinic Research Institute were co-authors.

Jeremy Fugleberg is editor of The Vault, Forum Communications Co.'s home for Midwest history, mysteries, crime and culture. He is also a member of the company's Editorial Advisory Board.
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