Learning to manage stress in rural Iowa
A pandemic and derecho, a drought, markets – just one of those events can cause a farmer or anyone living in rural Iowa stress, let alone a combination of them all.
To help out with this, COVID Recovery of Iowa has been developed.
“These are issues being addressed through COVID Recovery Iowa — a FEMA response of the emotional toll from both COVID 19 and those that were affected by the derecho,” said Jason Haglund, specialty coordinator for ag, rural mental health and addition for COVID Recovery of Iowa
COVID Recovery of Iowa is a FEMA/SAMSHA Disaster Response administered by the Iowa Department of Human Services with local agencies providing virtual services directly.
In addition to one-on-one crisis counseling, a host of other supports can be accessed. These include interactive video groups and activities, educational webinars and trainings, workplace debriefings and grief support.
The rimary aim of COVID Recovery Iowa is to:
• Promote local mental health resources that are available to all Iowans.
• To normalize mental health as a part of physical health and the importance of emotional wellness.
• Actively address stigma of mental health and substance use and or misuse.
It is important to note, Haglund said COVID Recovery Iowa is for all Iowans.
“There is significant stress on urban populations as well,” he said. “From an essential worker perspective, healthcare, meat packing plants, etc.”
There is also the undue burden on minority populations and women.
“Women have left the workforce in the past three months than in recent history,” Haglund said. “I believe this is primarily to take care of family.”
Businesses, including those within the hotel and restaurant industries are also suffering. To assist with that, Haglund said there are specific teams within the organization that are working with businesses and essential workers.
There are so many stressors affecting rural Iowans today.
“I am a corn and soybean farmer as well,” said Haglund. “Not only are we riding the market rollercoaster, there are a lot of us that have intergenerational farms. I am the fifth generation. I have two teenage sons that help out on the farm and hopefully, they will be the sixth generation, but who knows? We don’t ever want to be the generation that messes it all up. There is a weight on farming that is different than any other industry – that passing down from generation to generation.”
We are all experiencing times that no one has dealt with before.
“We have compounding disasters,” said Haglund. “As Iowans we go through disasters all of the time. We have tornadoes, floods – we are used to pitching in together, helping out, rebuilding and then celebrating the anniversary or grieving the anniversary and moving on. We have that pull yourself up by the boot straps mentality, but the pandemic isn’t like that.”
The reality is, Haglund said there may be no getting back to normal. Realizing that can be difficult, but grieving what used to be our normal is ok and may take some time.
“You have to grieve the way it used to be. The way our jobs used to be, your kids – it is different in school now and it may be different for a long time or it may never go back to the way it was,” he said. “Just like in the grief process we go through different phases of grief – much the same way in a disaster and pandemic, we have to give permission for people to grieve and everyone is going to grieve at their own pace and their own rate.”
Haglund said it is also important to be nonjudgmental to others in the community.
“Be accepting that everyone is in a different place in the grieving process,” he said. “That old idea of well, just suck it up and move on – that is not going to move us through this.”
Haglund said it is also important to note the cost of isolation of the elderly – both in nursing homes and those who are isolated in communities.
“I have heard many reports of individuals in nursing facilities that have not left their rooms in three months,” he said. “It’s truly catastrophic in some facilities.”
Mental health care
With those added stressors – there is an added issue of mental health care.
“There is the issues of accessibility, availability and acceptability,” said Haglund. “How do you create accessibility to care? Availability to care and the acceptability – which is that stigma, that I think right now, we are facing more than anything.”
Haglund said according to research, farmers and ranchers showed higher levels of anxiety, depression and stress due to COVID-19 and market factors and just everything we went through this last year.
According to an American Farm Bureau poll, two in three farmers/farm workers say COVID-19 pandemic has impacted their mental health.
The stigma of mental health and accepting mental health care is higher, Haglund said in rural and agricultural areas, however farmers are recognizing the need to address that stigma surrounding mental health.
In that same poll by American Farm Bureau, 87% of farmers and farm workers say it is important to reduce stigma about mental health in agricultural community.
But how should that be addressed?
“Everyone, individually, knows it’s an issue for them, but Heaven forbid they are going to talk about it with a neighbor, or is their car going to be seen parked at the therapist’s office in small town Iowa? That is a barrier rural folks are experiencing,” said Haglund.
As we get into rural areas, Haglund said access to healthcare is difficult – especially behavioral healthcare.
“There’s two types of healthcare – there’s physical healthcare and mental healthcare and so oftentimes they’re separated and that is a challenge,” he said. “It’s also a challenge to be able to pay for it. A lot of healthcare plans – especially that farmers have, don’t cover mental health and addiction, so that is a huge barrier to be able to get out and access care.”
But there could be a solution.
“That is an advantage of telehealth – more people can connect online. We have great accessibility today than we ever have when we think about access to mental health that way,” he said.
COVID Recovery of Iowa is a great resource, Haglund said to utilize to receive help.
“It’s a connection for people that need to call and talk to somebody or needs help getting connected to resources or finding therapists and talking about what it would be like to go to therapy,” he said.
The Warm Line through COVID Recovery of Iowa can help with those steps by calling 844-775-WARM (9276).
The Iowa Concern Hotline at 800-447-1985 is another option.
“The Iowa Concern Hotline actually originated in the 1980s for farmers for support,” said Haglund. “That has now been converted to working as part of the COVID 19 Recovery. It is a primary way for farmers to access, much as the same way we did in the 1980s – to access support and some financial counseling is also available.”
Training and education
How can we educate ourselves?
Not only can you learn some of the warning signs such as change in behaviors; seeing a decline in how a farmer cares of their farm equipment and animals; any hygiene or personal care issues; low energy, fatigue and crying – but becoming more educated and trained on mental health.
Trainings, Haglund said are the best way to get a comprehensive view to be able to recognize those telltale signs.
“We all know in our gut when we are talking to somebody they are not ok, but frequently we don’t know what to do, so it’s important we empower everyone in the community to take those next steps, so when we see something, we say something and help connect that person to support,” he said.
Haglund said Iowa State University Extension and Outreach offers such training as their QPR – Question. Persuade. Refer. This training teaches three steps to help save a life from suicide.
Also, learning mental health first aid.
“A lot of us are trained in physical first aid. We know how to care for someone until an ambulance can get there. But we don’t always have that training for mental health issues. So often, we are needing to support people who are experiencing a crisis, a mental health condition or anxiety,” said Haglund. “As we see things we need to know what to say. One of the most important things we can do is, if we see something – say something, but some people are hesitant to say something, so we need to utilize these trainings that are available.”