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Ionia, Missouri, farmer speaks on mental health stigma in the agricultural community

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Posted at 5:34 PM, May 27, 2024

PETTIS COUNTY, Mo. — Farmers have the highest suicide rate of any job in the U.S.

According to a 2016 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide rates among agricultural workers across 17 states was five times higher than the general population.

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This is due to several reasons like financial stress, lack of mental health resources and the cultural reluctance to seek help.

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“You’re proud of what you do, and you want to be successful, so it’s hard to share when you have problems," Roger Cordes said. “When you go through that, you feel like you’re very alone. You know, you have friends, but you wonder why they are not coming to your aid."

For three generations, Cordes and his family have dedicated their lives to farming beef cows, corn, and soybeans.

It is not easy work to produce meat and crops to feed a country.

“Just, uncertainty," Cordes said. "Weather, markets — you just, there’s no guarantee."

Not to mention, farmers are especially prone to mechanical injuries.

And, like everybody else, they struggle with the normal stresses of life, like family, health and loss.

“Back in 1999, my wife died fairly suddenly, leaving me with two teenage daughters," Cordes said. And it kind of threw me into a tail spin working full time, trying to farm full-time; it was like my whole world was now upside down.”

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Dana Binder, president of Pettis County Farm Bureau, says there is a lot of stigma around seeking help for mental health in rural communities.

“You know your neighbors and you’re a community, but very private people," Binder said.

There are also more barriers, both geographical and financial.

"They are responsible for their own insurance, so that can be an issue for a family,” Binder said. “We don’t have easy access to mental health resource.”

In order to raise awareness and connect their members to resources, the bureau started passing out cards with numbers to mental health hot lines.

The purpose is to be discreet so that it can honor their members’ privacy and dignity.

They have also partnered with the University of Missouri Extension for counseling an educational workshops.

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“Just quietly here’s a little something, might give you some information,” Binder said.

The road to healing was not easy for Cordes, but he says finding the right doctor and taking the right medications changed his trajectory.

His hope is to remove the stigma so that people who need help and people looking to help can find each other.

He knows from personal experience how far a warm comment can go.

“I remember him coming around and batting on my shoulder and saying, ‘I know you don’t believe it right now, but I care, and you have friends that care, and we’re gonna get you through this.' And that alone right there was like unlocking the door," Cordes said. “If you see somebody, a friend going through that, don’t be afraid to offer help. Reach out and let them know.”