Congress passes mental health legislation supporting farming communities
Farmers and other rural residents could soon benefit from the addition of federal mental health resources with the passage of the Seeding Rural Resilience Act.
The bipartisan bill is designed to create awareness of farm stress, promote mental well-being and destigmatize mental health care in rural communities.
It passed as an amendment to the Senate and House versions of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2021.
“Congress recognizing that these resources are beneficial is absolutely imperative, because the more people that are aware of this mental health crisis, the more we’re going to be able to recognize and help farmers in crisis,” said Dr. Amy Johnson, a nurse practitioner with Centra Medical Group, farmer and Bedford County Farm Bureau president.
“By helping to decrease the stigma of mental health and the feeling that people have to suffer in silence, we’re more likely to get folks the help that they need.”
Once enacted, the bill would require the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide voluntary stress management training for Farm Service Agency, Risk Management Agency and Natural Resources Conservation Service employees.
The bill also would fund a $3 million public service announcement from USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services to increase public awareness of farm stress.
Lastly, the Seeding Rural Resilience Act would call for leading agricultural organizations and the secretary of agriculture to establish industry best practices for responding to mental stress.
With federal resources in place, Johnson said she’d like to see the continued deregulation of telehealth beyond the COVID-19 pandemic to improve communication with farmers in crisis. She spoke on the topic at the White House in July.
Noting the impact the pandemic has had on farmers, Johnson said government investment in addressing the mental health resources deficiencies in rural communities has come at an opportune time.
“With the fact that so many states had started from the grassroots level and created the impetus for mental health awareness, we already had a stronghold on those programs helping farmers.
“Now that the government is getting involved and putting forth the funds to create more public awareness and push these agencies further in their training, it’s huge. We now have something to grow on and aren’t starting from scratch when a stressful situation for farmers became more dire with the pandemic.”