Faculty Research Spotlight
Erica Nason, School of Social Work
Bringing Mental Health Resources to our Nation’s Farmers
“In the long term, we hope that this program will improve access to mental health resources in agricultural communities and that our findings will inform future policy, funding, and research.”
Recent research shows the rate of suicide among farmers has grown to epidemic levels and may be higher than suicide rates for workers in any other occupation. The farmer suicide rate is also estimated to be about 50% higher than it was during the 1980s farm crisis.
While very little research focusing on suicide among American farmers exists, a number of unique risk factors related to stress in this population have been identified. These include financial (e.g. tariffs, market prices), environmental (e.g. drought, pests), and social factors (e.g. isolation).
As many barriers to traditional mental health resources exist within rural and farming communities, we applied for a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Workforce Development grant to help fill that gap. Rural counties in Texas have half as many psychiatrists as rural counties in other states, and 185 counties in Texas do not have a single practicing general psychiatrist. This means we have to think outside the box in order to increase access to mental health resources. To address this, I worked with my colleague Dr. Abby Blankenship, an assistant professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center, to devise Project G.R.O.W. (Generating Resilience in our Workforce). Our project will provide training in resources, such as mobile applications, that can be used to increase availability and access to these resources. Our hope is that our participants will go on to serve as mental health ambassadors within the communities where they work.
We anticipate a number of long- and short-term impacts that will affect both the students who participate in the project and the larger agricultural community. First, students will gain knowledge to increase their own psychological resilience in the face of work and school stressors. Second, they will have tools for talking about mental health and strategies for coping with stress that may benefit their friends, family, or coworkers.
In the long term, we hope that this program will improve access to mental health resources in agricultural communities and that our findings will inform future policy, funding, and research. If the results of this study are promising, we will then explore mechanisms for disseminating this kind of training program.
This project was funded by the USDA as a Workforce Development grant through the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. I believe the project was funded because we were able to think outside the box. As our research relates primarily to psychological resilience in the context of stress and/or trauma, the USDA was not an agency that immediately came to mind for funding. However, in considering how the team’s expertise aligned with areas of concern for agriculture, it became apparent that this grant could be a good fit for our research.
I am a strong advocate for interdisciplinary research and believe when we combine areas of expertise and background, our research is always strengthened. I think that Project G.R.O.W. is a good example of applying knowledge from one field to address the needs in a different area.