Unique program addresses ag mental wellness

By Matthew Carnero MACIAS, mmacias@paducahsun.com Apr 16, 2022

The FarmHand program is a pilot project born out of post-distress and trauma onset by the natural disaster in December. It aims to provide the western Kentucky agricultural community with mental and emotional tools to manage, cope, heal, grieve, and grow during recovery.

Samantha Anderson is the McCracken County Cooperative Extension Office agriculture and natural resources agent. She promptly responded to the need following the devastation brought on by the Quad State Tornado.

“This program is definitely unique,” Anderson said. “Thankfully, rural mental health has become less stigmatized to talk about in the last couple of years. It’s been wonderful to see that.”

She established FarmHand in collaboration with the Southeast Center for Agricultural Health and Injury Prevention and the Eastern Kentucky University Psychology Clinic.

FarmHand aims to reach beyond shelter needs and tangible agricultural assets to provide support through telepsychology services.

The extension office telehealth clinic allows clients to access mental and emotional health resources outside of the home in a private setting.

“We’re just trying to find a way to open that door,” Anderson said. “This is an environment where folks can come in and feel welcome and ask those hard questions.”

EKU telepsychology services target several areas such as post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal thoughts or behaviors, grief, and bereavement. They aim to provide high-quality mental health services, despite being virtual.

Anderson’s desire to assist her fellow farming community is intrinsic.

Her occupation, farming background and familial bonds amplify her agency. She said she shares the generational event with many others.

“A lot of our identity is tied to the physical land. It’s not just a job, it’s a point of pride. It is generational, too.”

Carolyn Oldham worked closely with Anderson to form FarmHand. She is a research coordinator at SCAHIP, where she investigates barriers to accessing care.

Geographical, social, and occupational isolation are underlying circumstances farmers navigate that lead to challenges in pursuing mental and emotional health services, Oldham explained.

“The great thing about small communities is that everyone knows one another, but that is also an obstacle to getting care,” she said.

Oldham added a sense of belonging and burden can prevent intervention, and poses risks, contributing to stigmatization.

In addition to hyperlocal market trends, the agricultural community is subject to national and global implications, causing stress-induced lifestyles and detrimental behavioral health outcomes.

“We hear a lot of farmers in Kentucky explain that they don’t feel appreciated,” Oldham said.

Theresa Botts is the EKU psychology clinic director. She was instrumental in forming the FarmHand partnership with Anderson and Oldham.

She said telehealth services benefit rural communities because it expands the coverage area and enables clients to access care on their own accord.

“In setting up this program, we wanted to make sure that we were sensitive to the times when farmers and their family members might be most available for services,” Botts said.

The partnership between the extension office, SCAHIP and EKU demonstrate the application of evidence-based practices and the sharing of peer-to-peer solutions.

Botts said the goal and purpose of FarmHand are to make a positive difference in people’s lives.

“We like to think that the work we’re doing does that across the board, and this is just a wonderful opportunity to collaborate with other folks who are like-minded.”

In the pilot phase, FarmHand is serving residents in Hickman, Graves, Marshall, and Fulton counties.

FarmHand is supported by a SCAHIP pilot grant. SCAHIP is funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention research agency.

EKU psychology clinic is supported by various donors, including Shelby’s Way, Brothers’ Run, and Chloe’s Petals for Hope.

For more information and to schedule an appointment, participants can call the extension office at 270-554-9520. To reach the EKU psychology clinic directly, call 859-622-2356.