The British BARN program aims to reduce the number of farmer suicides


From 2004 to 2017, 109 Kentucky farmers committed suicide

Farm Dinner Theater meetings help farm families discuss health issues affecting their communities through dramatic presentations featuring local community youth. (Steve Patton, UK Agricultural Communications)

LEXINGTON, Ky. — In 2020, the Kentucky Legislature has designated Wednesday of National Farm Safety Week as Farmer Suicide Prevention Day. Suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in Americans. Unfortunately, farmers experience even worse losses. From 2004 to 2017, 109 Kentucky farmers took their own lives, with those over 64 at the highest risk. Stress levels are now at their highest in years, with manufacturers suffering from supply chain issues, changing weather conditions and rising input prices.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that between 2012 and 2015, in 17 different states, male farmers died by suicide at twice the national average. However, this may be an underestimate because some agricultural states were not taken into account during the data collection process.

However, the University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture, Nutrition and the Environment and the College of Nursing are working to address these issues through a joint program called BARN, or Act Now.

One of the ways the program addresses mental health issues in the industry is through Farmer’s Evening Theatre. These gatherings help farm families discuss health issues affecting their communities through dramatic presentations starring local youth. The program encourages open dialogue about mental health and reassures farmers and their families that treatment is available when needed.

“Kentucky’s BARN program has helped raise awareness of mental health issues, farm stress and suicide prevention in Kentucky,” said Paul Norrod, farm health and safety specialist and health instructor in the College of Nursing. . “Evening cinemagoers said that mental health problems can affect anyone and that it is important to talk about them in the community to prevent suicide.”

Through the program, participants expose themselves and their families to a variety of proven mental health interventions, from basic suicide prevention resources to breathing techniques. However, all scenarios are re-enactments based on real-life situations that farm families may have encountered.

BARN, a collaborative initiative created by the Kentucky Nurses Action Coalition, has dramatically expanded its impact since receiving its first Innovation Award in 2020. In 2021, the KNAC Innovation Award allowed BARN to expand into youth mental health and suicide, with 100 school nurses.

The same training and tools will be used to ensure the well-being of nurses, an urgent priority in the National Academy of Medicine’s book, The Future of Nursing 2020-2030: Charting a Path to Health Equity.

However, increasing impact goes beyond any single program. New strategies and connections developed in recent years have helped Kentucky nurses become more influential on policy issues. For example, the state recently mandated that nurses receive continuing education in suicide prevention.

Hopefully, all of this will provide the resources needed to stop the tragic trend of suicides among farmers and rural residents.

Jenny Heath, dean and professor of nursing at UK Warwick College of Nursing and president of the Kentucky Nurses Action Coalition, says anyone looking to improve their mental health and well-being can use the strategies highlighted in the BARN program. Some of these strategies include:

  1. Focus on what you can control– for example, we cannot control the weather, but we can control how we react to or prepare for the weather.
  2. Breathing– focusing on your breathing and doing breathing exercises is a proven method for dealing with stress and redirecting your mind away from stressors.
  3. Practicing gratitude– take time each day to identify what you are grateful for, as this promotes positive thinking and perspective. For example, thank you for a sunny day, talk to a friend or spend time with a pet.
  4. Prioritize time for yourself– prioritize “me time” at least once a day, finding time to do something good for yourself, such as reading, exercising, or watching your favorite TV show.
  5. Encompassing resources– seek free and/or paid professional counseling services, mental health programs, or other treatment that helps your mental health, especially in a crisis situation. For example, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 is available toll-free 24/7 for those experiencing suicidal thoughts.

“If you’re worried about a friend or family member or they’re having suicidal thoughts, you can call or text our crisis hotline,” Norrod said. “Text ‘KY’ to 988 indicating you live in Kentucky or call 988 and indicate you live in Kentucky.”

“We are excited to partner with colleagues who are committed to meeting mental health and wellness needs for healthier, stronger Kentucky communities and farm families,” Heath said.

The BARN Farm Dinner Theater was developed into a toolkit that will allow county extension services to easily replicate the program. As part of the USDA Farm Ranch Stress Assistance Network, the toolkit will be distributed through the Southern Ag Exchange Network in 15 southern states. The training program for coaches in the southern region is planned for 2023.

The BARN Farm Dinner Theater program is made possible by the support of the Nursing Center of America, a joint initiative of the American Association of Retired Persons Foundation, AARP, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Kentucky Beef Council.

— Jordan Strickler, British College of Agriculture, Food and the Environment The British BARN program aims to reduce the number of farmer suicides

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