Getting The Word Out About Mental Health Issues

Posted on Oct 19, 2020

Unique collaboration helping to get information to the rural community

As the need to bring awareness to mental health issues continues to grow across this state and the country, a group of organizations in Daviess County have banded together to support those living in their rural communities who are facing tough times and difficult decisions.

Daviess County Farm Bureau (DCFB), along with Owensboro Health, River Valley Behavioral Health (RVBH), and other community partners, have come together to create an initiative that will bring information about mental and physical health issues to those living in rural areas of the county and region.

DCFB President Joan Hayden said with so much more turmoil in the world today, everyone has been affected in some way both physically and emotionally.

“What we have come to realize, especially as it relates to mental health issues in the rural community, is that it’s somewhat of a stigma; something you don't talk about,” she said. “We are trying to change that and bring information about these issues to those in our rural areas and get the conversation started.”

Local health officials have taken notice of the issue, as well, and are working in conjunction with DCFB to do their part to help the community alleviate the problem.

Dr. Wanda Figueroa Peralta, RVBH CEO, said that organization has provided prevention and treatment in rural communities for the last 50 years, but sees the need to do more.

“We expanded our clinics, hired more behavioral health clinicians, and pursued funding opportunities and partnerships with other community organizations,” she said. “The high rate of suicide among farmers is one of the main reasons for our efforts and issues of isolation, social stigma, and transportation often prevent people from seeking help.”

Peralta added that RVBH received a federal grant this year which is specifically targeted to provide mental health services to rural communities. As a result, they now have a Crisis Mobile Team that provides mental health services to any person in crisis, wherever they are, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The grant will also help make 18 more clinicians available to serve rural areas, in addition to its current team.

Greg Strahan, CEO of Owensboro Health, said his organization’s role was to learn more about this issue and reach out to local organizational stakeholders.

“The goal of this effort was to look for ways we could work together to start a conversation about mental health in our rural and farming communities,” he said. “Owensboro Health assisted in bringing our local partners together to talk about a regional approach to this issue.”

Strahan added that this ongoing dialogue has also included members of the farming sector and the Daviess County Cooperative Extension office and that a team approach to this issue is critically important.

“Each organization plays a different role, has areas of distinct expertise, reaches a unique group of people, and has a valuable perspective,” he said. “When we bring that expertise together, it allows us to generate ideas and create solutions that are sustainable across the community and perhaps across the state.”

Hayden said it takes these different local partners to make the project work. She also emphasized the reputation that Kentucky Farm Bureau has with those living in rural areas, has been an advantage for the initiative and one recognized by local partner organizations.

“We have worked with local health officials before to bring awareness to issues such as farm safety and I think they realize how connected we are to our farm families and the trust those families have in Farm Bureau,” she said. “But we have a close-knit community always working together to make our county and this region a better place.”

Peralta said collaboration is key to create positive, impactful changes in any community.

“We cannot succeed in increasing mental health awareness and access to treatment unless different community organizations work together,” she said. “We all have part of the solution; no organization has all the answers or all the solutions and working together helps all of us strategize for better impact.”

In keeping with that sense of community comradery, RVBH offers Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training, an evidence-based program which trains community members to offer help for someone who might be developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis.

“MHFA is a type of mental health CPR that trains people to provide support until appropriate treatment is received,” Peralta said. “It is not a substitute for counseling, medical care, peer support, or treatment, but it does help community members to become more aware of mental health issues.”

Hayden emphasized how important the agriculture industry is to Daviess and surrounding counties. Because of this, making the effort to reach out and help those involved in the industry is only natural and critical to the county from an economic perspective.

“Agriculture is such a part of the fabric that makes up our region, and when we help those working on the farm, we are really helping the entire community,” she said.

Strahan reiterated that fact saying the farming sector is a major part of the local economy and its strength has helped Daviess County to withstand the effects of the pandemic better than many other communities.

“However, COVID-19 has introduced even more volatility into agriculture, and farmers already face plenty of challenges and stressors, including the weather, equipment, employees and land issues,” he said. “Now, with (the pandemic), the market has grown even more uncertain.”

Hayden said with so many helpful partners and such a willingness from the community to help with issues related to mental and physical health, she feels this initiative will have a positive impact.

“I’m thankful to live in a place where we all work together for a common goal, and bringing needed mental health resources to our rural community members is what this whole initiative is about,” she said. “We want our farm families to know how valued and loved they are as we look toward the future knowing there will be better times ahead.”

As part of this initiative, DCFB has created banners that are being placed around the county which offer an encouraging word and contact information for those seeking help. Radio ads have also been produced containing the “You are Not Alone,” message and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number. These ads will continue through October.

The following is a list of available resources for anyone dealing with mental health issues:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK

River Valley Behavioral Health crisis line: 1-800-433-7291

Mobile Crisis Services: (270) 684-9466

KFB Farming Footnote

Many events are held across the nation and around the world during October that emphasize mental health awareness, and organizations, including many connected to the agriculture industry, are taking note of the need to do more when it comes to mental health issues.

Kentucky Farm Bureau President Mark Haney said with an uncertain economy having already caused plenty of anxiety in the ag industry before COVID-19, the new financial hardships brought on by the pandemic have only heightened tensions throughout rural communities.

“Our farm families continue to tackle many difficult issues, and the persistence we see in them is nothing short of amazing,” he said. “However, we cannot ignore the mental issues they deal with on a day-to-day basis, and we must continually look for ways to help them address these issues.”