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Ohio Launches 'Got Your Back' Campaign To Prevent Farmer Suicides

Recently-sprouted soybeans on a farm in Central Ohio.
Nick Evans
Recently-sprouted soybeans on a farm in Central Ohio.

The Ohio Department of Agriculture launched “Got Your Back" on Tuesday, a program designed to connect farmers around the state with mental health resources in their area, and help combat the stigma that surrounds the issue.

“For farmers to come forward and start to talk for the first time about these things, we recognize, is going to be a challenge,” says state agriculture director Dorothy Pelanda. “So we’re here to provide them with the resources and the opportunities for us to reach out to them with some expert help.”

Nathan Brown, a first-generation farmer in Hyland County, says that makes this sort of collaborative program essential for an occupation that sees twice as many suicides as the general population, and has faced a set of unique challenges in recent years.

In 2019, heavy rains prevented many Ohio farmers from planting their fields. It was the state's worst weather-prevented planting season on record.

“Just being able to get your crops planted has a big psychological effect on guys," Brown says. "Because that’s who they are."

He mentions the Trump administration'strade war with China as another source of stress.

“China is our number one importer of soybeans," Brown says. "They buy a lot of pork, they buy a lot of chicken. So our markets have fallen off the last few years."

Beyond the problems specific to this season, though, Brown says isolation and the heavy responsibility of farming both contribute to mental health issues.

“At the end of the day, when you’re on the farm by yourself making those decisions, you’re the only one accountable for that,” he says.

But Brown hopes the collaborative nature of the program will fight those feelings of isolation.

“This program is ‘We got your back, guy.’ It’s not all you," he says. "You’re not alone, we can talk about it, we can seek treatment, whatever you need, whatever the best option for you, let’s do it, let’s do it together.”

Clare Roth was former All Things Considered Host for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU in February of 2017. After attending the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, she returned to her native Iowa as a producer for Iowa Public Radio.