Utah offering vouchers to farmers with mental health struggles

Jun 15, 2023, 10:58 PM | Updated: Jun 16, 2023, 7:02 am

For as much as he loves farming, T.J. Rhodes knew something didn’t feel right.

“I love the lifestyle. I really do,” he said. “But there have been times where I just wanted to sell it all and quit.”

Any farmer will tell you the stress of the job can be overwhelming.

“Of all the careers out there, you’d be hard-pressed to find another career where you are so susceptible to outside influences,” Rhodes said. “You know, increasing inputs and decreasing markets and variable weather and all the pressures of pests and weeds and all those kinds of things.”

It got to a point where Rhodes spoke with a therapist, something many farmers just don’t do.

“I remember grandpa and dad, nobody ever really asked for help,” he said. “They probably had the same struggles, the same stresses, but they just kept it all inside. I think it was hard on them, but I don’t see we need to do that anymore.”

The trick, though, is getting farmers who have that independent rugged image to talk to someone.

“We don’t talk about feelings with our wives half the time, you know?” Chris Chambers said with a laugh.

Chambers, who runs a dairy farm in Cache County, was in a dark place when one of his farming friends died by suicide.

“I had several people tell me you need to go talk to somebody, you need to go talk to somebody. I said no, I will figure it out on my own, I will figure it out on my own,” Chambers said. “Finally, I realized that I couldn’t and it’s hard.”

That’s why the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food started the Ag Stress Assistance Program. It’s designed to offer $2,000 vouchers to those in the farming and ranching industry to talk to a mental health professional, even if they don’t think they need to.

“It helped me move on,” Chambers said. “It helped me to know that I am not abnormal, and I am not different.”

The same thing for Rhodes.

His daughter wrote a research paper at Utah State University about mental health for farmers.

“It’s something that I have seen be dealt with my whole life and I know it is a huge problem in the ag industry,” Brinley Rhodes said. “I am proud of my dad for getting help.”

It’s that younger generation letting older generations know it’s OK.

“If they’re struggling, reach out and get help. If they’re struggling, tell somebody,” T.J. Rhodes said.

It’s an issue the Utah Farm Bureau is also looking at, offering tips and assistance for farmers and ranchers who are feeling the stress of the job.

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Utah offering vouchers to farmers with mental health struggles