Stress, mental health resources available to South Dakota producers, family members, friends

South Dakota State University Extension
Farm Forum

BROOKINGS, S.D. - April blizzards, wet planting and harvest conditions, low commodity prices, and trade concerns made 2019 a stressful year for many South Dakotans. Disruptions to production and marketing practices had many producers looking toward 2020 with optimism for a better year ahead.

At the start of 2020, some fields still needed to be harvested, or otherwise destroyed, before planting the new crop. Overly wet field conditions were replaced with D0 & D1 drought rankings, packing plants were shut down or slowed down across the nation, and prices for many commodities declined even further.

All of these market and production variables are factors leading to an increased level of stress carried by farm and ranch families and those in related businesses.

“We never know what the new year is going to bring,” said Heather Gessner, SDSU Extension livestock business management field specialist. “The unexpected challenges of overly wet conditions, drought or lack of market options can add to the daily stress for those working in agriculture. As harvest season approaches, unforeseen repair expenses, weather delays and trying to get a lot done in a short period of time can increase the stress of everyday tasks.”

Mental health first aid

SDSU Extension is offering mental health first aid courses to help South Dakotans understand the signs, symptoms, possible risk factors and possible warning signs of mental health problems. Participants will learn the mental Health First Aid Action Plan and how it fits within the array of interventions available to address mental health problems.

“With chronic stress in agriculture, an increase in depressive and anxiety symptoms are being observed among farmers and ranchers,” said Andrea Bjornestad, SDSU Extension mental health specialist.

The training would be beneficial to those working in agriculture (e.g., farmer, rancher, spouse, agribusiness professional, lender, etc.) as participants will learn how to assist someone, such as a farmer or rancher, who is experiencing a mental health or substance-use related crisis.

“The course does not teach counseling skills and should not replace the role of the counselor,” said Bjornestad. “Instead, participants learn specific steps in providing assistance during a mental health crisis including the referral process.”

The training requires the completion of two hours of self-paced online course preparation and four hours of virtual training. Virtual trainings will be offered on multiple occasions throughout August, September and October. Those interested in participating can visit to register for the training, free of cost.

Additionally, SDSU Extension offers resources regarding signs of stress, communicating among families about finances and the farm operation, receiving assistance from a counselor and other agricultural stressors at

Additional resources

Producers, along with their friends and family members, have access to the free Avera Rural Stress Hotline at 1-800-691-4336. Calls are answered by industry-aware counselors who understand agriculture and provide assistance or referral information related to the caller’s concerns.

“Producers should know that it is okay to seek help,” said Gessner. “When they don’t know how to stop a weed, they can call an agronomist. When calves are getting sick, they can call a veterinarian. Producers are strong, but they don’t have to be strong alone.”

For mental health questions and additional resources, contact Andrea Bjornestad, SDSU Extension mental health specialist at or 605-688-5125. For information about mental health first aid training, contact Lorna Saboe-Wounded Head, SDSU Extension family resource management field specialist at or 605.782.3290; or Heather Gessner, SDSU Extension livestock business management field specialist, at or 605-782-3290.