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Concerns growing with Ga farmer’s mental health crisis

The conference was held at the UGA Conference Center in Tifton
The conference was held at the UGA Conference Center in Tifton(WALB)
Published: May. 19, 2022 at 7:31 PM EDT
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TIFTON, Ga. (WALB) - The goal of a conference hosted at the University of Georgia’s Tifton Campus was to address mental health amongst Georgia’s farmers.

It recapped what progress has been made and what work still needs to be done.

Emily Watson works with Colquitt Regional Medical Center, but her husband is a farmer. She said being in the medical field has made her more aware of these types of issues.

“Be aware. Help when you can. Offer whatever support it is whether it’s a listening ear or there’s a shortage of labor. If it means getting out there and doing your part in whatever way,” Watson said.

Matt Berry, a Georgia farmer, said he goes through his struggles. He said his mental health is being challenged more this year than ever.

“The input costs are the highest they’ve been in my entire life. I’ve been farming for many years. Fuel alone is double what it cost last year,” Berry said.

Berry also said farmers are the backbone of America. He added that making the public aware of their issues makes them get access to the care they may need. The problem was that not all farmers had access to those resources or even knew what they were.

House Bill 1013 tells insurers to treat mental illness as a physical illness.

Robert Dickey, chairman of the agriculture committee in the Georgia House of Representatives, said it’s the first of many steps to come to help with the mental health crisis among farmers. The bill also expands incentives for students to enter the mental health field.

Preliminary research from this year by Mercer University shows that 10% of first-generation farmers think about committing suicide every day. Previous research supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from 2016 already showed that farmers in Georgia were more than three times more likely to commit suicide.

Add in the pandemic, and that’s why Dickey said passing this bill was important this year more than ever.

“This [bill] is really revolutionary. The inflation problem makes things worse for farmers. The weather outside, making things dry and it’s planting season,” said Dickey

Dickey is the Chairman for the Agriculture Committee in the Georgia House of Representatives
Dickey is the Chairman for the Agriculture Committee in the Georgia House of Representatives(WALB)

Mental health services say they are helped by the bill, but for now, they are still struggling with staff.

“We still have a high need for individuals in this field and our agency,” said Amanda Hall, the Clinical Director, Legacy Behavioral Health Services.

Hall adds that this issue is a team effort with other mental health agencies.

“We have to work together because there are a lot of people that need our help,” she said.

She also said that right now rural Georgia doesn’t have the staff and there’s no reason to compete even if they are separate businesses.

Robert Hurn’s business, Georgia Pines, also provides mental health services. He said he wants older men to come in more as they are a demographic that research shows are less likely to seek help.

“A lot of the times it’s one of those things like people can take it. I can take it, I can deal with it,” Hurn said

Hurn also said he sees young farmers come in for help, but he wants everyone to come in, or at least address their mental health.

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