Building A Mental Health Toolkit: Identifying vital resources to support the mental well-being of families and children living in agricultural communities

By: Jana L. Davidson, Education Content Specialist for the Progressive Agriculture Foundation

The start of a new year and a new decade can symbolize a fresh start or new beginnings. However, for many the new year can generate feelings of failure due to missed opportunities or goals not previously met. Additionally, the holiday cheer and socializing amplified in November and December often comes to a screeching halt at the beginning of the year and tends to bring about feelings of sadness, emptiness and depression.

This past year was an especially difficult one for our farmers. Mother Nature provided a vast amount of issues to extend the harvest season. Weather issues combined with financial burdens and the economy added to farmers’ stress levels. This stress combined with long workdays can take a toll on mental health.

SA1_3114 updatedWe would be naïve to believe that adults are the only ones feeling stress. Farm families, including children, are not immune to feeling stress. Therefore, after a primary focus on farm safety for the past 25 years, Progressive Agriculture Safety Days is turning their attention to the overall health of children living in rural and agricultural communities. Farm Credit supported this effort through sponsoring a youth-focused mental health and rural stress roundtable held last fall. The roundtable helped identify the basic content and laid the framework for the creation of a youth mental well-being and stress management chapter. The new chapter will focus on hands-on activities tailored to help children understand stress and their emotions, learn positive coping strategies to deal with stressors, and provide resources to go home to the families to encourage open conversations and to break the stigma surrounding mental health.

“Farm Credit’s mission is to support rural communities and agriculture. At the core are people: our farmers and their families. They form the backbone of our country,” according to Mark Hayes, Vice President External Communications with the Farm Credit Council. “We’re excited to partner with the Progressive Agriculture Foundation to focus on the mental well-being of children all across Rural America. Through engaging exercises and hands-on activities offered at Progressive Agriculture Safety Days, they will bring these ideas home and help teach their family coping strategies and initiate important discussions.”

Lunch Volunteers 16-813As we kick-off 2020, let’s strive for a year that is not only successful, but less stressful for our families living in agricultural communities. Let’s vow to strengthen our mental well-being and stress management by building a mental health toolkit with some New Year’s resolutions worth keeping:

  • Adopt better sleep habits – Prepare yourself for a restful night’s sleep by securing a comfortable environment by turning off electronics, lights and other distractions that may stimulate the brain.
  • Begin an exercise regimen – Start with small changes by opting for the stairs over the elevator and take stretch breaks during the workday.
  • Find a hobby – Don’t be afraid to try something new or go back to doing something you enjoy.
  • Take a social media break – Put down the smartphone or turn off the computer.
  • Utilize stress management techniques – Try yoga or meditation, to get you to a relaxed state.
  • Get organized – Use a planner and set goals for yourself. You will feel a great sense of accomplishment crossing things off your list!
  • Keep a journal – Instead of dwelling over negative thoughts, put them down on paper and then you can “close the book on them” and enjoy your day.
  • Volunteer – Not only does it feel good to help a friend or give back to your community, but volunteering is a great way to connect and cultivate relationships.
  • Strengthen your communication skills – Reach out and talk to someone, as well as be a good listener.
  • Treat yourself, as well as others, with respect – Remember, we are all human, we make mistakes, and we miss goals, but maintaining a positive outlook is key.

Progressive Agriculture Safety Days is recognized as the largest rural safety and health education program for children in North America. For more information or to locate a Progressive Agriculture Safety Day near you, visit www.progressiveag.org or call 888-257-3529. Help send another child to a Progressive Agriculture Safety Day in 2020 with a modest donation of only $13. Donate by texting the word “SAFETYDAY” to 44321.

Photo 1 Caption: A Youth-Focused Mental Health and Stress Roundtable sponsored by Farm Credit took place on September 27, 2019 at AgriBank in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Photo 2 Caption: Volunteering offers vital help to people in need, worthwhile causes, and the community, but the benefits can be even greater for you, the volunteer. At Progressive Agriculture Safety Days, volunteers are truly the heart of our program. Volunteers fill the roles of Safety Day coordinators, planning committee members, group leaders, presenters, and various on-site logistics.

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