YELLOWSTONE PUBLIC RADIO: Tester Announces Legislation Addressing Rising Suicide Rates Among Farmers

by Rachel Cramer, Yellowstone Public Radio

Montana’s Democratic Senator Jon Tester announced legislation today he says addresses rising suicide rates among farmers.

Tester’s Seeding Rural Resilience Act aims to help farmers and ranchers manage and reduce mental stress amid trade wars, low prices and uncertainty with a $3 million public service announcement to destigmatize mental health care.

It would also require the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide voluntary stress management training to agency employees who work directly with agricultural producers, and it would create a task force to determine best practices for responding to farm and ranch mental stress.

At a press conference announcing the bill, Tester said the financial burdens brought on by the Trump administration’s trade wars have made life harder for agricultural producers.

“Look, sitting on a tractor for 10-14 hours a day and thinking about all the things going wrong with your life, it can screw with your head,” Tester said.

The suicide rate is 45 percent greater in rural America than in urban areas, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and farmers and ranchers are one of the most vulnerable groups.

“The fact is the folks who live in Glasgow or Havre face higher barriers to access mental health resources than folks living in New York or Los Angeles,” Tester said.“They face isolation; they have to travel further to receive basic health services; they are less likely to be insured, and they may not know there are mental health resources available to them.”

Tester said he will be introducing the bill to get it into committee where there will be opportunities for public input.

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