Avera Medical Minute: Avera offers stress hotline to farmers, ranchers & their families

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - Farmers and ranchers face many pressures every year. Within the past year though, they've had to endure some even tougher times with low crop prices and volatile weather. That's why Avera has created a stress hotline for them. The hotline is 1-800-691-4336.

Walt Bones raises beef cattle and grows corn and soybeans northeast of Parker. He gave KSFY a tour of his farm several years ago. It has been in the family since his great-grandfather homesteaded in 1879.

"You've got that additional pressure of that multi-generational family history. My grandfather made it through and survived the dirty 30s. My dad survived the farm crisis of the mid 80s," Bones said.

According to South Dakota's Department of Agriculture, 98% of farms are family-owned and operated. Bones farms with his two brothers and brother-in-law. Right now, they, along with many other farmers, are struggling with low prices of corn and soybeans.

"This is the first time that a lot of folks of my age or a little younger have experienced these kinds of stresses and these kind of difficulties on the farm," Bones said.

That's why Avera is offering the free and confidential hotline.

"It's an opportunity to just talk," Dr. Matthew Stanley said, who is a psychiatrist and vice president of Avera Behavioral Health Services.

He also said finances can cause the most worry.

"It's one of the most severe stresses you can have, particularly when you're trying to take care of a family or you feel responsible for a family farm," he said.

People will reach a licensed mental health counselor through the hotline. Some signs to look out for if you think someone needs to call are a change in sleep habits whether it's sleeping too much or not at all; a decrease in appetite; or even expressing hopeless statements.

"Sometimes, it's that expressing just ineffectiveness. I don't know what to do. I just don't know where we're going to go from here," Dr. Stanley said.

If anyone expresses suicidal thoughts though, it's important to get them help immediately.

"It is kind of our culture just kind of tough it out, pull yourself up by the bootstraps. Just keep going. You'll get through it. But it's so completely unfair for those individuals that feel that's what they need to do," he said.

Bones said he has his family, community and faith to lean on. But it can still be tough.

"Lots of times, we're out there by ourselves. We're on the tractor all day long and/or we're out amongst the livestock or whatever it might be," he said "So a lot of times, it's easy to withdraw from the situation and then it kind of compounds."

That's what Dr. Stanley doesn't want to happen, is for things to keep stacking up.

"We as a culture, and particularly here in the Midwest, particularly where we have a can-do attitude, which is wonderful in some situations, but in this, it can be deadly because we need to understand that mental illness is a medical disease and needs treatment."

You can call the hotline more than once at any hour of the day. It's open 24 hours per day, seven days per week.