This Project is Helping Colorado Farmers with Mental Wellness

Rural farmers and ranchers face unique challenges.

Rancher in Colorado.

(Joseph Sohm /

Farmers and ranchers in rural Colorado are usually thought of as independent, strong, and resilient. Not the people who would typically take stock of their mental health. But the additional environmental stress of droughts, and economics are taking a toll, reported the Durango Herald.

In La Plata County, mental health is not a topic that is usually discussed but as the stresses of raising crops and animals multiply, farmers and ranchers are beginning to deal with the stigma of being mentally unwell and the culture that has prevented people from seeking medical help.

“I don’t think it’s really talked about in our community much,” Ann Reid, who raises chickens, turkeys, and ducks told the Durango Herald. “People just kind of keep it to themselves. “It’s the whole ‘men don't cry’ stigma of it.”

Agricultural Stressors
For the people who work in agriculture, they are frequently at the mercy of things they cannot control; like the weather and economics. Combined, this makes farming in Southwest Colorado difficult and very stressful.

In 2022, the area suffered a severe drought and that made farmers reduce their crops to conserve water. The dust from the dry fields also impacted the laying rates of the hens on Reid’s farm and an outbreak of avian influenza also threatened her flocks.At the same time, animal feed prices went up due to the war in the Ukraine.

“The cost of fertilizers has at least doubled from a year ago,” Minkler, owner of Stone Peak Ranch in Ignacio and a Colorado Farm Bureau director representing District 8,  said. “So here we are in a situation where we don’t have enough water, our crops [and] our livestock are stressed, everything costs more and then we’re trying to turn a profit on top of all that. It can really wear on a person and a family.”

Getting help to the people who need it
In fact, 75 percent of the calls and text to the Colorado Crisis Services come from rural areas. But the five-county region of Southwest Colorado has only three community mental health centers and just one acute mental health treatment unit. A full 22 rural communities do not have any licensed psychologists or addiction counselors.

The lack of resources coupled with the stigma towards mental health creates barriers for the people who need the help. That’s why local and statewide groups are filling in the gaps. In La Plata County, a partnership between the Colorado Farm Bureau, Colorado Department of Agriculture, Colorado AgrAbility and other groups, called CAAMHP offers vouchers for 6 free sessions with mental health professionals.

The sessions are remote and this can preserve anonymity for people who live in small communities and a big plus is that the counselors are all trained to work with agricultural workers. The lack of understanding agricultural communities and the unique stressors has prevented many people from seeking help before this program was available.

This has been so successful that legislation has been introduced in the US congress by Joe Neguse (D-CO), who sponsored the bill along with Brittany Pettersen (D-CO. to study and improve access to mental health care for the farmers and ranchers, reported Fox News. If passed, the bill will provide the same level of care that is now available in Colorado.

“This bill would do something very simple. It tries to provide a necessary and important lifeline,” Neguse told Fox News. Helping people cope with these stressors is vitally important to improve the mental health and way of life for these multigeneration farms and ranches.

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