A stigma exists in agricultural communities when it comes to seeking mental healthcare. Moreover, Kyle Godwin, who recently researched patterns in farmer suicide for his University of Iowa School of Public Health master’s thesis, said his research data might suggest that doing anything to improve farmer mental health care will be difficult unless something is done to end this stigma.
Paradoxically, Godwin’s research showed that in regions of Iowa that had a higher saturation of mental healthcare professionals, there were more farmer suicides, not less.
“Of course, naturally, you want to think that the places with mental health centers are going to have lower suicide rates, and studies have found that with the general population, that a higher proportion of healthcare providers and mental healthcare providers have generally related to lower suicide rates,” Godwin, who grew up on an Iowa farm, said in an IowaWatch interview.
“But then I think we have to remember that for when we’re talking about farmers… just in rural areas, in general, I should say, you know, stigma may play a more prominent role.”
Many mental healthcare providers IowaWatch spoke with pointed to stigma as a major roadblock when trying to treat farmers. Tammy Jacobs from the Iowa State University Extension’s Iowa Concern Hotline said she often hears from wives of farmers instead of the farmers themselves, who feel uncomfortable seeking help.
Jennifer Kramer, a clinical social worker with Capstone Behavioral Health, in Newton, is married to a farmer and said she believes farmers oftentimes feel a strong need to present to others that they are doing well. “Pride gets in the way,” Kramer said.
Lauren Welter, a Monticello-based therapist, said she knows from her sixth-generation farmer husband, Dan Welter, that farmers expect to have good years and bad years. Some may not be able to perceive alone when a bad year is so bad that they need someone with whom to talk, she said. “Some years, you know that, I think that you just get stretched your limits,” she said.
MAIN STORY: MENTAL HEALTH CARE PROVIDERS IN FLOOD-STRICKEN RURAL AREAS SHORT-HANDED BUT EXPECTING MORE DEMAND