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Commissioner Nikki Fried & FDACS Announce New Farmer Mental Health Initiative

Dan Florida, Health

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(Tallahassee, FL/Nov. 3, 2021) — Today, on National Stress Awareness Day, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried is announcing that the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) has been awarded a $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to carry out a new Farm Stress Awareness and Reduction Initiative in Florida.

With this grant award, FDACS will launch an outreach campaign to help raise awareness about mental health and to promote existing and expanded services to farm and rural communities across Florida. FDACS will also partner with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) to train public school agriculture teachers, 4-H and Future Farmers of America members, and others to recognize the signs of farm stress in their communities and families. Additionally, the program will help create partnerships to help agriculture producers connect with mental health services in their communities and to expand the reach of new telehealth sites in rural counties.

“Florida’s farmers and producers have had to contend with a number of difficult issues over the past few years, from pandemic supply chain disruptions to natural disasters and unfair trade practices, which is why this new initiative is so important,” Commissioner Fried said. “All of these stressors can create significant mental health challenges for even the most self-reliant farmers. It’s crucial that our farming communities know that they aren’t alone in dealing with these issues and that there are places they can turn to help.”

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Farm stress and farmer suicides have been increasing over the past decade, with suicides among farmers 3.5 times the national average in 2019. Half of farmers and farmworkers say it’s difficult to access therapy or counseling in their communities. Nearly nine in ten farmers cite financial issues, farm business issues, and fear of losing their farms as mental health stressors, particularly with farm bankruptcies reaching high levels last year despite record federal aid – and that was before the COVID-19 pandemic began. Two thirds of farmers and farmworkers say that COVID-19 has impacted their mental health. The pandemic not only increased isolation but added massive financial concerns given disruptions in supply chains and traditional sales channels for many of Florida’s producers – creating an even more urgent need for greater access to mental health services in Florida’s farming communities.

The grant announcement video can be viewed here.