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Local agricultural professionals learn about mental health

PHOTO SUBMITTED Beth Scheckelhoff, Ohio State University Agricultural Extension Educator in Putnam County, speaks to local agricultural professionals at a mental health training session Monday at Tiffin-Seneca Public Library.

The Seneca County Agricultural Mental Health Committee hosted two training sessions for local agricultural professionals Monday about communicating with farmers and those in the agricultural industry dealing with high amounts of stress and other mental health concerns.

The free training sessions took place at 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. at the Tiffin-Seneca Public Library, 77 Jefferson St.

The training sessions were offered as part of the committee’s effort to build connections and resources around the subject of mental health concerns within the local agricultural community, Hallie Williams, Ohio State University Agricultural Extension Educator in Seneca County, said.

“We realized that there are not a lot of mental health resources developed around the agricultural community, and we felt a call to action to work on that,” Williams said.

“Farmers already face a lot of stress on a regular basis, in a normal year with commodity prices and multiple jobs to juggle,” she said. “But this year has been particularly difficult with the weather issues we’ve had.”

The Seneca County Agricultural Mental Health Committee is currently made up of members of the Ohio State University Extension Office, the Seneca County Farm Service Agency, the Seneca Soil Conservation District, the Tiffin-Seneca Public Library, the Mental Health and Recovery Services Board of Seneca, Sandusky and Wyandot Counties, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Ohio Farm Bureau, as well as businesses like AgCredit and Sutton Bank.

“A few other counties are having similar training sessions, but I believe we’re the first in the state to do this on such a large scale,” Williams said.

The training sessions were meant to educate professionals from organizations and businesses such as these to “recognize the signs of stress and depression and other mental health concerns in others and to teach our industry professionals to feel better and more confident in having difficult conversations with producers,” Williams said.

“The agricultural community has done an excellent job of banding together this year, but we’ve always been a community that doesn’t air its dirty laundry, that doesn’t talk about stress and things,” she said. “That’s why this training was especially important for us.”

Beth Scheckelhoff from the Ohio State University Agricultural Extension Office in Putnam County joined Robin Reaves, Deputy Director of the Mental Health and Recovery Services Board of Seneca, Sandusky and Wyandot Counties, in facilitating the training sessions Monday.

“We had just shy of 60 attendees from the region at the sessions Monday, from Norwalk to Ottawa,” Williams said. “We’ve armed these professionals the best we can, and hopefully we can have continued contact with them to make sure they have the resources they need in the future.”

Robin Reaves, who was one of the people that provided training at the sessions, said she discussed local mental health resources that agricultural professionals and producers in the area could use.

“I wanted everybody in the room to know there were resources that offer both mental health and addiction services nearby,” Reaves said.

Reaves said she provided information about important hot lines to call if someone is suicidal or in a great deal of trouble. She also discussed area treatment agencies that offer sliding fee scales to cater to people at different income levels, including Firelands Counseling and Recovery Services, Community Counseling Services, Inc. and Wyandot Counseling Associates, Inc.

“These agencies work with individuals by looking at their household size and income and determining how much financial assistance they’re eligible for, to help pay for treatment,” she said. “The Board will then pay a portion of the treatment costs.”

Reaves also discussed “compassion fatigue” at the Monday training sessions, a term that describes the burnout that caregivers and confidants can suffer when helping others with mental health concerns day after day.

“Compassion fatigue can be a byproduct of helping people who’ve been through chronic stress or trauma,” she said.

“We wanted to educate people who are helping farmers on a daily basis to take care of themselves, to learn to reduce their own stress and about coping skills so they’re not as emotionally impacted by farmers’ stories,” she said.

Reaves said this is the sort of training that counselors, nurses and social workers receive, training that people who work for agricultural businesses or agencies may not be at all familiar with.

“These sessions were generally done to educate about stress in the farming community and about useful resources, but we also wanted to tell people to take care of themselves so that they can come back the next day and continue to help others,” she said.

For more information or assistance with finding mental health resources in the area, the Mental Health and Recovery Services Board of Seneca, Sandusky and Wyandot counties can be contacted by phone at (419) 448-0640 or through their website at mhrsbssw.org.

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