September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, an important topic in rural America. Kansas State University Extension is working with more people than ever who are suffering from high stress levels, and it’s affecting entire families. Mike Zuzolo, K-State Extension Board member in Atchison County, Kansas, says stress is building in farm country.
“It’s a very tough thing to talk about because we are very resilient, self-reliant people, and that is to be respected. But I also think that it’s important to realize that what we have found in the K-State Extension board for Atchison County and the state of Kansas is that we need to concentrate on the farmer, rancher, and also his family because youth stress and depression is going to be very tied to these issues. In the month of July – and I was sent this just a couple of weeks ago – it’s an alert that says 162 suicide-related events occurred in the state of Kansas among females, and so it is real, and it seems to be a nationwide issue.”
He says the important thing to remember is stress affects everyone and is a normal part of everyday life. But there is hope.
“You’re very unlikely to be able to have someone that is suffering from mental stress and depression in agriculture to ask for help. That’s not how the agriculture sector works. And that’s not how the rural community works, typically. So, it’s the community, I think, that needs to step in and up their game and look for those signs. And I think that’s not only knowing the signs but reacting and being proactive about some of those signs and taking those signs very seriously.”
Zuzolo talks about some of the signs of a mental health challenge.
“Physical stress, are you doing something too much? You’re not getting enough sleep. Emotional stress, one example that was given to me, are you giving away things that you normally wouldn’t want to give away? And then the cognitive stress of not being able to handle problems like you normally would or situations like you normally would. Obviously, the temper side of the equation or just not dealing with pressure like you would expect that family member to deal with?”
There are many resources available to help rural Americans struggling with mental health challenges.
“NAMI.org is the National Alliance on Mental Illness. There’s a specific organization for farm and rural stress. It’s called farmstress.org. And then here in our state, we have Kansasagstress.org, which is a wonderful tool from what I found. And then obviously, the most crucial, elevated need that you would have is that if you need something right away, there is 988. And that’s your suicide prevention hotline.”