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Bolstering mental health resources for Montana farm families

Posted at 9:32 AM, May 20, 2024

GREAT FALLS — In Summer 2022, the Montana Department of Agriculture released a new initiative in partnership with Frontier Psychiatry in Billings to create free mental health resources directed at farm families. The partnership was at the inspiration of Courtney Kibblewhite, Vice President of the Northern Ag Network.

"We've been my family has been a farming and ranching family in Montana since 1960 and Wyoming before that," Kibblewhite said. "I'm somebody in my family that's struggled with some of these mental health issues. I always kind of fight depression. We figured if we are we are lucky to talk to farmers and ranchers, 15 times a day. We can kind of work on eliminating the stigma and talking about the challenging things, then hopefully that will allow people to better address their own mental health."

Montana DPHHS reports Montana has the 3rd leading rate of suicide in the country. The CDC reports farmers and ranchers are more likely to die by suicide when compared to other occupations, and suicide rates overall have increased by 40% in less than two decades.

"With the extremely rural and isolating nature of our industry and agriculture, that means it's challenging."

A challenging industry riddled with hardship — from weather patterns that don't favor crop growth and development, market prices, and a new weight on ag producers shoulders, succession planning.

"There are very tight margins and we see the pressure of inflation and and the tight margins in agriculture are only tighter in times like these, even though we're seeing some record cattle prices and low cattle inventory right now." Kibblewhite said. "I think one of the other challenges that has become highlighted over the last ten years. I see people talking more about succession planning and the stress of, if you're in farming and ranching, you're oftentimes in business with your family, either living together or living on a on a property together and how to successfully transfer those assets, your legacy to the next generation."

Two years since the inception of "Beyond the Weather," mental health is becoming a topic of conversation in farm communities across the state. Kibblewhite says, "Beyond the Weather," has created its footprint in the state of Montana and has recently expanded partnerships in Montana's southern neighbor of Wyoming.

"We started working with the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, running messaging campaigns in Wyoming to promote the importance of getting beyond the weather, reducing the stigma," added Kibblewhite. "They also so frequent access in Wyoming through a different group than Frontier Psychiatry. Those resources are available there. So if you go to beyondtheweather.com right now, you can click the state that you're in and then be able to find the resources provided from there. Hopefully it's an easy interface to for people to get to to see that."

As the mission continues for "Beyond the Weather" is seeking legislative funding for the future. If funding is deemed unavailable for the future, Kibblewhite says having conversations at the local level to de-stigmatize mental health in agriculture will do more than what money can buy.

"While we can talk about how, you know, gosh, it would be great if we had extra counselors and in Jordan or Plentywood. I honestly don't think that it's funding that's going to solve the issue. Instead just that community level awareness and addressing the issue which which those are the kind of people that we are here in Montana to, is we're going to help each other and we're going to help each other through it."

Kibblewhite reiterated she is one who struggles with mental health on her own. She shared her own experiences with mental health and the struggles of being 40 minutes away from the nearest town. Having an outlet to talk to and potentially medication to help with negative thinking is an available method of treatment but a conversation to have with your healthcare provider.

If you or someone you know is having the thought of suicide, dial 988 for a free and anonymous lifeline. 988 is a operated by Voices of Hope in Great Falls for a large portion of the state. It has operators trained in crisis situations and with various backgrounds to help all patients in need.

For free mental health resources visit the Beyond the Weather website.