Avera hotline helps farmers cope with stress

Erin Ballard

Mother Nature has not been kind to farmers lately.

After a brutal winter, flash flooding, relentless rain and uncertain financial futures this season have plagued the plains and minds of small-town families across South Dakota.

In response to the extreme weather conditions and low incomes, along with everyday farm woes such as machinery breakdowns and long hours in the field, Avera Health created the Farm and Rural Stress Hotline.

“The farm community is known for its hard workers, and a lot of times people feel like I can just work my way through the mental health,” said Amber Reints, a psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioner at Avera. “But we know that’s simply not the case. Sometimes we need professionals to walk alongside us to give the support we need. ... There’s no shame that needs to be associated with pain and anxiety.”

Farmers, ranchers and people who live in rural communities can call 1-800-691-4336 at any time of day or night to get access to a mental health professional who can help navigate a myriad of life’s issues, such as anxiety or depression.

Since opening in February, the hotline has receive an average of two to three calls per day, according to Reints. That’s an indication of just how much the service is needed in our communities, she said. And it’s not only aimed at the ones driving the tractor — it’s for farm wives, seed dealers, the owner of the local grocery store. When farms struggle in farming communities, the ripple effect is wider.

“We want people to understand that they’re not the only ones struggling,” Reints said. “These are tough times and they don’t have to go through these tough times alone.”

Reints stressed that the hotline is free and confidential and, because farmers don’t always work a tight 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule, it’s staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“We recognize this has been really much more than a difficult spring, it’s been a tough couple years for farmers, producers, ranchers,” she said. “When financial stress becomes more of a problem, we see mental health crisis and the need for people to have the opportunity to call somebody to get help. We wanted to decrease those barriers to help them get that.”

Once on the line, a trained counselor can talk the caller through a current crisis, or direct them to resources available to help, whether that’s local treatment, medication management or options for in-patient hospitalization.

So far, the hotline has been a success and counselors have already seen a positive impact, she said.

“What we’ve seen is that these times are difficult for farmers, but when they’re able to get help to meet their mental health needs, they’re able to better fight through (them),” Reints said. “They’re able to find that hope again.”

In a public service announcement, Gov. Kristi Noem encouraged those who need help managing stress, or who just need to talk, to call the number.

“I farmed and ranched for many years in South Dakota, but what we are seeing now are historically tough times,” she said. “Flood damage, wet fields, a difficult and unpredictable ag environment. It can all add up to a heavy burden of stress.”

  • 1-800-691-4336.
  • Free.
  • Open 24-7.
  • Confidential.