Farm Bureau members from across Virginia got a better sense of the financial, physical, familial and emotional stressors that can contribute to a higher risk of suicide among farming and rural communities at VA Farm Bureau Federation’s annual convention.

Mental health experts discussed exacerbating factors and warning signs of suicide, along with intervention methods and how to access regional resources at a workshop titled “Farm Stress: Helping Your Neighbors and Community Connect to Resources.”

Nicole Gore, a suicide prevention coordinator with the VA Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, said the state’s community service boards are an ideal starting place for those with mental health challenges to seek help, no matter their income level or insurance status. Neighbors and loved ones often can intervene before a crisis arises.

“The three things that you can do – recognize some of the basic warning signs, be comfortable asking the question, and then be able to connect them to resources,” Gore said.

Kristie Jones is director of adult behavioral health services for the Cumberland Mountain Community Services Board in southwest VA. She said farm stress, in particular, can be unrelenting. “Your work and life are in the same place, so how do you find the balance there?” she asked the audience.

Jones reported that farmers are 1.5 times more likely to die by suicide compared to the overall U.S. population. Warning signs of a mental health crisis include deterioration of physical well-being, emotional turmoil, drastic personality change, social isolation, farm neglect or increased accidents.

“When you talk to them about your concerns, it opens the door for people to feel as though someone is there to listen, support, help or allow them the opportunity to talk about what is going on in their lives,” Jones said. “So, if you notice some of those warning signs, talk about it – ‘I notice you seem tired lately’ or ‘I noticed you stopped coming to the meetings.’ Be there to listen, and take it to the next step. Ask if they’re thinking about suicide.”

Gore reiterated that conversational skills are at the crux of suicide prevention. “Ask them what brought them to this point, and how often they have felt this way,” she said.

In addition to community service boards, Jones said, faith leaders, support groups, friends and family or primary care providers can connect those in crisis with appropriate services.

Workshop organizer Dana Fisher is chair of the VFBF Farm Safety Advisory Committee. “This issue has existed for a long time, and we are becoming more aware of it,” Fisher said. “We hope to continue to bring more mental health awareness trainings to other Farm Bureau events, and get more folks involved.”