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Montana Ag Network: peer mentoring for mental health

Sad cowboy
Posted at 6:08 PM, Jan 28, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-29 13:03:43-05

The list of stressors for farm families is a mile long. Weather, markets, and continuing a family legacy.

"I’ve had people tell me that they can’t understand how anyone could ranch. Because you get so many things thrown at you and they seem to get thrown at you all at the same time," shared Casey Mott, a cattle rancher from Custer and District 4 Manager for the Montana Farm Bureau Federation.

Montana is one of the nation's leaders in suicide and among the farming community, a spotlight is cast on mental health.

"It’s a wonder that any of us get up in the morning and go out and do work because of the pressure that’s on us. We’re definitely tough folks, but having the ability to have a program out there just to give us a little bit of help, it’s a good thing." Mott said.

The non-profit, Farm Foundation, has launched a new online platform that offers farm families a peer support group. Following a pilot period tested in Iowa, Togetherall, has tested the farmer-to-farmer method to provide mental healthcare resources for farmers and ranchers.

"It was actually with the CEO of 4-H, where she and I hatched this idea, of actually having practical solutions for farmers and farm families across the U.S." explained Shari Rogge-Fidler, President and CEO of Farm Foundation.

Togetherall is a social media style platform that is comparable to Facebook. The major difference is that it is completely anonymous for users. Offered to ages 16 and up, it offers discussion groups that allow the user to opt into other groups that counsel for substance abuse issues. Upon joining, each member is offered an anonymous username, data found during the pilot period is the anonymity of the platform has encouraged participation.

"Simply being in the platform. Not even engaging, but seeing there are other farmers faced with the same challenges… Just being a fly on the wall really reduces stress and resolves it for some people." Rogge-Fidler said.

With the platform launching nationwide, it's made to work best from a mobile phone and can be used on a desktop.

"The program is peer to peer so it’s not like you’re talking to a professional in the field that understands mental health, but they don’t understand the real trouble that we’re going through here. It's a great thing," added Mott.

As the world takes a more technological turn, the agriculture community is changing with the times. It doesn't mean that the stressors of life and the industry go away. It's a chance for the Farm Foundation to cultivate future generations.

"I’m a fifth-generation farmer, I know the stories of the prior generations and all the sacrifices that they made to get us where we are now." Rogge-Fidler added, "That’s both a huge gift and at times can feel like a burden for many farmers and ranchers. We’re also trying to inspire the next generation to continue without burdening the next generation to continue."

The Togetherall platform is available nationwide. For more information on the Farm Foundation's impact,click here.