Vault Barn/Farm

GREAT FALLS, Mont. - Whether it's grasshoppers, fire, the drought, or the global pandemic, stress is at an all time high for Montana's farmers and ranchers. 

And on top off all of that stress, there is a different problem putting the family farm at risk - farmer/rancher suicide. 

"It's no secret that Montana leads the nation in suicides. That's not a good category to be number one in," said Senator Jon Tester. 

Our farmers and ranchers are known to be strong and resilient. 

"We're an independent bunch, we tend to try and solve our own problems," said Walter Schweitzer, president of the Montana Farmers Union. 

But that can leave them feeling hopeless. 

"When you're depressed you kind of think it's your own damn fault and you try to fix it yourself and you're afraid to ask a neighbor for help and you're embarrassed," said Schweitzer. 

Much like Walter, Erik Somerfeld has been farming his entire life. 

"This is definitely the worst it's ever been here," said Somerfeld. 

So much of his life and his farm is out of his control. 

Things like weather, the price of crops, will farmers/ranchers have enough feed for their livestock, and more can make or break their year. 

"At the end of the day you get home from work and lay in bed and think I need to do this, I need to do this, and you're worried about stuff and you're not sleeping as well as you should all kind of things like that," said Somerfeld. 

Senator Tester is a 3rd generation farmer from Big Sandy and sadly, he knows the struggles all too well. 

"I remember a gentleman when I was 8-years-old, you know we were riding horses and I found him in a car that committed suicide," said Tester. 

"You get lonely... you get lonely on normal years and you know personally I lost a friend a couple years ago, a kid I grew up with, we played basketball in grade school together... I didn't know he was struggling... I miss my old basketball buddy... I wish I would have known he was struggling so I could give him a hug," said Schweitzer. 

For the last 3 decades, Montana has ranked in the top 5 states for suicide rates. 

In fact, the CDC released a study a few years ago stating farmers and ranchers experience a rate of suicide 5 times that of the general population. 

"I'm sick and tired of losing my neighbors... We don't have many farmers or ranchers in this country. We're getting to be a smaller and smaller population," said Schweitzer. 

So, what is being done to help those people who continually work to make sure we have food on the table?

"What we've tried to do is number one, de-stigmatize mental health issues because that's a big problem," said Tester. 

Now a new bill signed into law not that long ago gives training to people who regularly work with farm program. 

"So, if a farmer or rancher comes in and they exhibit conditions of depression that they would be able to recognize those and not push anybody but just offer help," said Tester. 

And there is even more hope on the horizon as the Montana Department of Agriculture is prioritizing mental health through a new stress assistance program.

It is providing farmers and ranchers with free confidential counseling services both in person and through tele-health. 

"If you have friends, family that are farmers and ranchers give them a call, visit with them, joke with them, tell them you're there to support them. This is a critical time that some of my neighbors are going through and a call from you could save a life," said Schweitzer. 

If you are in crisis and want help, call the Montana Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) Or text “MT” to 741 741

The bottom line is, you're not alone and it's not just farmers and ranchers dealing with this stress - here are a few resources to help... 

National Suicide Prevention Hotline - https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

Farmer Crisis Center - https://farmcrisis.nfu.org/

MFU Farm Crisis Center - https://montanafarmersunion.com/farm-crisis-center-suicide-prevention/

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