New organization links farmers to mental health resources

Dakotah McGinlay and Clinton Wilson host a discussion in front of various members of the farming community on August 28, 2022.
Spencer Powell / Steamboat Pilot and Today

Many rural communities have been underserved by mental health resources, and those working in the agricultural sector have been particularly neglected.

To better extend aid to rural countryside, AgWell, an organization still in its infancy, held its first summit on August 28, just days before the start of Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month.

The summit took place at the Hayden Granary, a historic agricultural warehouse that has been preserved as a gathering space for the community. Ranchers and farmers were invited to eat local foods and discuss mental health issues in agriculture.



AgWell is sponsored by the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union and was designed to provide stress management services to those working in agriculture throughout Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming. AgWell was formed in November and so far has four staff members and two volunteers to help meet people’s needs.

AgWell’s mission is to connect ranchers and farmers to mental health resources and create opportunities for members of the agricultural sector to connect with each other.



Clinton Wilson, program manager for AgWell, said it’s important for ranchers and farmers to know they’re not alone, and that it’s AgWell’s mission to help people come together.

“Over the past 100 years, I think we’ve lost the gathering spaces that aren’t on the farm,” Wilson said.

The modest number of ranchers and farmers at the summit agreed with Wilson’s assessment, saying they had seen a decline in community gatherings over the years and generations. According to several summit participants, churches are no longer the community centers they once were, and interactions between neighbors are less and less as people no longer have to rely on each other as they used to. in the old days.

“We can see resilience in ourselves when we see it in others,” said Dakotah McGinlay, program assistant for AgWell.

During the summit roundtable, two topics were frequently discussed: the need for community gatherings and the reluctance of many people in the agriculture industry to ask for help, especially men.

“Does anyone know why on Earth we humans decided we couldn’t show our weakness?” Wilson asked the room.

The consensus among summit attendees was that culture plays an important role, particularly the concept of “robust individualism”.

According to a 2018 study by the Centers for Disease Control, the suicide rate for male farmers, ranchers and other farm managers was twice as high in 2012 as for the general population.

Phil Kellenbeck, who operates Bears Ears Ranch north of Hayden, said he doesn’t have the luxury of taking time out to care for himself. He broke his ankle earlier in the year and opted to wear a boot instead of crutches because he still needed to work.

“We’re all workaholics,” said Kellenbeck, who added that balancing work and personal life is a constant struggle.

AgWell is working to promote mental health options that can accommodate any schedule and connect people to resources that can work remotely. Additionally, the Colorado Agricultural Addiction and Mental Health Program offers farmers and ranchers six free therapy sessions through its website, CAAMHPforHealth.org.

There is also a national helpline – 1-800-FARM-AID – which offers services to farm families in crisis and is available from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. More information can be found at FarmAid.org.

Aubrey L. Morgan