Coping with rural stress
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Weathering difficult times
Extension's rural stress task force applies programming and expertise from across Extension to help families and small towns respond to current economic, environmental and societal challenges that overwhelmingly affect rural Minnesota and farming communities. The team works with state agencies and agricultural organizations as well as colleagues throughout the University.
Many Extension faculty and staff live and work in rural Minnesota. They respond daily to issues faced by the people and organizations in their counties. They've compiled the resources on this page to streamline access to financial help and mental health resources in greater Minnesota.
Need immediate help?
Minnesota Farm and Rural Helpline
Free, confidential, available 24/7. This call center is located in Minnesota. Calls are answered by trained staff and volunteers. If you or someone you know is struggling with stress, anxiety, depression or suicidal thoughts — call. Sometimes it's easier to talk to someone you don't know.
1-833-600-2670 x 1
Farm Information Line
When you call the Farm Information Line, you'll get reliable, research-based answers from Extension agriculture and natural resources experts. This statewide service is staffed by a network of local educators who deliver information to meet your specific needs. If they can't answer your question, they'll find someone who can.
The Farm Information Line also can connect you to farm financial counseling. Extension farm financial experts provide free, one-on-one financial counseling to farmers who are experiencing financial stress.
Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Afterhours: Leave a voicemail and we'll return your call the next business day.
This video introduces mental health language. It gives case examples of "mental health" and "mental illness" and ideas for intervention. And talks about the relationship of mental health as it relates to nutrition, sleep, exercise, poverty, gender, etc.
Mental Health: Yours, Mine and Ours (00:5:46)
The dealing with stress workshop series will help you:
- Understand what stress is.
- Identify areas of stress in your life and which ones are important for you to change.
- Build skills and discover tools to manage the physical, emotional, and attitudinal effects of stress.
- Develop skills to change what you do, how you think, and how you face conflict so that you have less stress in your life.
Complete the online workshops on your schedule. Each workshop will take 15 to 25 minutes to complete and builds on the concepts addressed in the previous ones. While tailored to people working in agriculture, the information contained in these workshops is applicable to anyone who feels stress on a regular basis.
Each workshop features:
- An overview of the workshop.
- Descriptions of the core concepts.
- Examples that pertain to agricultural life.
- Questionnaires and worksheets you can use to apply concepts and skills.
Cultivating Resiliency for women in agriculture
This interactive online series helps women in agriculture cultivate resiliency by focusing on what they can control in these challenging times. The series connects you with resources and information that can help you handle stress.
The project is a partnership of American Agri-Women, District 11 Agri-Women, and Extension’s Women in Ag Network. It is sponsored by Upper Midwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center.
Resilience is the ability to bounce back from the consequences of change. It means seeing opportunity in change, not just loss.
These resources provide practical tools to deal with the stress of change.
Help for families and children
Losing a job or income affects all members of the family. Adults can become so preoccupied they forget that tough times have an emotional, as well as a financial, impact on their children. Children depend on their parents for emotional security. When parents are tense, upset and inattentive, much of this security is gone.
Family stress is often influenced or moderated by parental stress. It is important that parents take action to manage the amount of stress the family is experiencing. There are strategies that parents can use to moderate family stress.
Parents and stress: Understanding experiences, context, and responses (2015; PDF on University Digital Conservancy)
Become a rural ally
A rural ally is someone who is open to understanding what is happening in rural Minnesota and how it affects the people who live there. Those who commit to being rural allies help strengthen connections across the state through lived experiences, shared information and open conversations.
You are the key to building alliances for rural Minnesota. As you learn more about rural Minnesota and the issues that are currently impacting those who live there, share what you have learned with your family, friends and networks. You can help share the story and influence others to get involved in building a stronger Minnesota.
Here are some tips for starting meaningful conversations with people who live and work in rural communities.
Ask questions to understand the challenges affecting rural Minnesota.
When asking questions, be curious and seek new knowledge. When working to build an alliance, it helps when both parties in the conversation ask open-ended questions and create respectful conversation.
Icebreakers for a conversation based in curiosity include:
“Help me understand . . .”
“I am interested in how you feel about . . .”
“I would like to learn more about . . .”
Listen to the person you are speaking with as they share their story.
When we are listening to others speak we are only using 25 percent of our brain. This means that often we are making out our to-do list for later, thinking about something we saw on social media or, more likely, coming up with what we want to say when the speaker is done.
When building alliances, both parties must work together to listen and share information to build understanding and support.
People seeking to be an ally will:
Engage in the conversation with an open and focused mind.
Listen closely to hear what is being said and the tone that is used, watch body language and notice words or phrases that show excitement, anxiety or fear.
Seek clarification by reframing what you have heard to make sure that it is what the speaker meant.
Encourage the speaker to ask you questions to build the conversation.
Learn about the issues that are being dealt with by those in rural Minnesota.
This task might sound simple enough but, with the large amount of information available, you might be overwhelmed and have a hard time finding the facts. Organizations like UMN Extension, Minnesota Department of Agriculture, and others are good sources to understand the issues.
Use sound critical thinking skills to find factual information:
Look past the headline. The headline is meant to catch the readers attention but it may not present the whole story.
Check the source. There are many websites that pretend to look like credible news or research organizations. If you are viewing an article on a website, look at the “About us” section or pay attention to the URL to make sure you are on the news and information site you think you are.
Know the author. Articles are shared freely through social media. This allows many people the opportunity to share their opinions; not necessarily facts. Pay attention to the information that is in the article. If it seems to opinionated or doesn’t include facts to support the story, you may want to keep looking.
Check the comments. If you are getting your news through social media, check the comments that are associated with the article. If many of the comments are saying the article is false or misleading, it likely is.
There are many reasons to care about what happens in rural Minnesota.
Despite the attention that is given to the differences that exist between rural, suburban and urban Minnesota, there are many things that tie us together. The most important of which is our economy.
Minnesota’s rural, suburban and urban economies are tightly interconnected. According to a study by Rural MP and University of Minnesota Extension:
- When manufacturing outputs in rural Minnesota increase by 6%, urban areas gain 16% of the jobs and 38% of the additional outputs.
- A $1 billion decrease in manufacturing outputs in rural Minnesota results in a loss of 1,043 jobs and $207,822,848 in revenue for Twin Cities area businesses.
- Rural Minnesota prepares young workers with strong values and work ethics to move to suburban and urban areas to fill job vacancies and contribute to the local economy.
Rural Minnesota is facing significant challenges in the agricultural economy, workforce, access to mental health services and issues with addiction and recovery. All communities are impacted in some way and have different stories to share.
Agricultural, forestry and mining economy
Median net farm income was $26,055 in 2018, the lowest since the University of Minnesota began collecting data. Ups and downs in income is part of farming. But no family, business or farm can sustain such low incomes indefinitely.
Dairy farming has been among the hardest hit, as many dairy farmers have been operating at a loss. USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service reports the number of dairy herds in Minnesota declined by 8 percent in 2018.
Even when profits are low, farmers must still buy products and services, employ workers and pay bills. Each farm generates substantial business activity. When farms are hurting it impacts other parts of our rural economy.
Northeastern Minnesota industries that rely heavily on natural resources such as mining, wood product manufacturing and paper manufacturing have experienced more than a 15 percent reduction in jobs in the past five years.
Rural Minnesota businesses are struggling to fill job vacancies. A 2017 survey conducted by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce showed that 69 percent of businesses reported difficulty finding workers for both skilled and unskilled positions.
Businesses and communities are facing the retirement of business owners. Together these changes are making waves on Main Street and impacting the ability of communities to remain vibrant and meet the needs of their residents.
Addiction and its impacts on families and communities is not unique to any one place in Minnesota.
Rural Minnesota is experiencing the effects of the opioid crisis as is suburban and urban Minnesota. They are experiencing the crisis in unique ways due to limited access to treatment options and community based healthcare.
According to the Minnesota Department of Health, some northern Minnesota counties show higher rates of opioid misuse and deaths than the 7 county metro area.
Mental health access
People who live in rural Minnesota are often more isolated than those in suburban and urban areas due to small community sizes, distance between farms and neighboring towns, and limited places to gather. People who are isolated while dealing with other stressors can have increased problems with mental health. This presents yet another challenge to rural Minnesota residents.
According to research from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, there are 1,960 rural residents to every one licensed mental health provider. In metro areas the ratio is 340:1. Rural residents have limited access to needed care as well as transportation to appointments in addition to the stigma for seeking help.