Mississippi: MSU Offers Mental Health Assistance to Farmers

The Mississippi State University Extension Service is doing what it can to make sure everyone in the state’s agricultural community knows there is help available when the stress of life seems unrelenting.

David Buys, Extension state health specialist, said the stress farmers and rural residents face regularly can cause mental health problems. If unchecked, these issues can lead to unhealthy behaviors and addictions.

“Extension believes that the best way we can address farm stress is by helping the ag community be as informed as possible,” Buys said. “We are focused on educating producers in best practices, technology, farm policy and more. And for those who fall through the cracks, we want to be there to pick them up.”

MSU Extension has lined up a variety of resources to serve the needs of this community. At the forefront is the Mental Health First Aid training program that MSU Extension Director Gary Jackson mandated statewide.

“We want our agents to be equipped to recognize who is struggling and help connect them to the care they need,” Jackson said.

Anyone struggling with mental health challenges is urged to call the Mississippi Department of Mental Health Helpline at 1-877-210-8513. Individuals also can search for mental health providers near them at this link.

MSU Extension has stepped in to help through a grant-funded, multilevel initiative that brings together a variety of team players. Known as PReventing Opioid Misuse In the SouthEast — or PROMISE — this initiative formed through a cooperative agreement between MSU Extension, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Mary Nelson Robertson, project coordinator for the PROMISE Initiative, said previous research has identified stressors and the connection between stress and substance misuse.

“Our team is working to do something about those stressors, as well as promoting prevention strategies that individuals can do in their own homes to prevent opioid misuse,” Robertson said.

The PROMISE Initiative team conducted focus groups and administered a statewide, web-based survey to assess community members’ perceptions of opioid misuse and to identify prevention strategies that community members can implement in their own homes.

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“Opioid misuse is a problem that impacts the entire family, and PROMISE Initiative research findings suggest that community members view themselves as having an important role in preventing prescription opioid misuse at the family and community level,” Robertson said.

It starts by having conversations with family members about prescription opioid misuse.

“Having these conversations will increase awareness and knowledge of opioids, as well as begin to destigmatize opioid misuse and addiction,” Robertson said.

The stigma associated with mental health problems and substance abuse disorders is a significant hindrance keeping individuals from getting the help they need.

“We have to work hard to dignify individuals who seek help, which is a critical part of  preventing this epidemic.”

Contact Robertson for more information on the PROMISE Initiative at mnr72@msstate.edu or 662-325-4447.


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