It’s Time for Banks to Get Invested in Farmers’ Mental Health
January 31, 2022 | Jim Plagge
Harvest is in the rearview and planting is still months ahead. Yet, the stress many farmers feel extends beyond the growing season for corn and soybeans. The nature of the agriculture industry presents year-round uncertainty, including weather, prices and polices – all potentially distressing factors producers can’t control.
These factors, combined with the lack of mental health resources available in rural areas, are among the reasons The Suicide Prevention Resource Center believes farmers, ranchers and other ag managers have one of the highest suicide rates in the nation.
As we know, the COVID-19 pandemic did not help matters: Labor challenges, supply chain disruptions and rising debt loads have increased stress for farmers. This combination of external factors led to a growing number of Iowa producers opening up about their mental health struggles in what may seem like an unlikely place – local banks.
This year, Bank Iowa team members across the state reported more face-to-face conversations with farmers exhibiting signs of distress, like crying and sharing feelings of hopelessness. While financial professionals often find themselves counseling clients through financial stressors, Bank Iowa’s lenders felt a shift in severity. Exponentially more farmers were disclosing that their money concerns were contributing to anxiety, depression and even feelings of suicide.
Financial wellness and mental health are inherently connected, according to the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute:
- 46% of people with debt also have a mental health diagnosis
- 86% of people with mental health issues and debt say that their debt makes their mental health issues worse
- 44% of Americans say financial concerns are their number one stressor
Admittedly, Bank Iowa and its team members felt underprepared to help in these circumstances, so they enlisted the help of the Iowa Healthiest State Initiative and the Make It OK program. Make It OK is a community campaign to reduce stigma by starting conversations and increasing understanding about mental illness.
The desire to gain more insight into mental health in Iowa’s farm communities led to an inaugural Mental Health Outlook survey by Bank Iowa, the second largest ag lender among Iowa chartered banks. The bank wanted data to support its hunch that Iowa’s farmers needed help. The survey results confirmed that mental health stigma is real, and the challenges facing Iowa’s ag community persist.
While 77% of farmer respondents said they or a loved one has struggled with mental illness, more than 40% of farmer respondents either agreed or strongly agreed to statements such as
“If I thought I had a mental illness, I would be reluctant to seek help,” and “There are negative impressions, stereotypes or stigma about mental health in my community.” The full report is available at bankiowa.bank/make-it-ok.
So, what can we, whether bankers, neighbors or just fellow Iowans, do to end stigma in the ag community?
If trained, bankers, lenders and financial advisors can be a “first responder” when mental health appears to be at risk. Bank Iowa team members are participating in Make It OK ambassador trainings, which will equip them with the skills and resources to have supportive conversations about mental health, as well as point clients in the direction of local resources.
Importantly, efforts like these must not be limited to the banking world. It’s not just financial professionals who are in a position to help. The Healthiest State Initiative holds Make It OK Ambassador trainings year-round that are free and open to the public. Ambassadors are crucial to breaking down stigmas in the communities where they live, work and do business. Additionally, workplaces can sign-up to be a Make It OK Registered Site and start fighting stigma within their organizations.
You can find more information on trainings, workplace registration and free Make It OK resources – including tips for talking and facts on common mental illnesses at MakeItOK.org/IOWA
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, know that you are not alone. To find mental health resources, call (855) 581-8111, text (855) 895-8398 or visit YourLifeIowa.org.
Executive Director, Healthiest State Initiative
Jami Haberl is the Executive Director of the Healthiest State Initiative. She grew up on a farm near Lohrville, Iowa, where her father still farms. To learn more, visit MakeItOK.org/IOWA.
President and CEO of Bank Iowa
Jim Plagge, a native of Latimer, Iowa, started his banking career as an ag loan officer. Plagge is president and CEO of Bank Iowa, Iowa’s second largest family-owned financial institution. To learn more, visit bankiowa.bank. Member FDIC.