Response to the need of mental health help for North Dakota farmers and ranchers

Published: May. 31, 2023 at 7:23 PM CDT
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HAZEN, N.D. (KFYR) - Farmers and ranchers face ups and downs every year, and over time it can start to take a toll on their mental health. A North Dakota North Central Regional Needs Assessment study from 2021 found 46.6% of agricultural producers have experienced at least one symptom of anxiety and depression.

Your News Leader went to Seek First Ranch near Hazen to see how two ranchers are advocating for mental health to make sure producers have the opportunity to live their lives fully. Challenges with the weather, delays in planting and harvesting, commodity prices, government regulation, and equipment breakdowns are just some of the stressors they face. With all these challenges, there are people that want to help and listen.

When Joshua and Tara Dukart look out at their land, they know it’s maintained through hard work and sacrifice, but they also make sure they prioritize their well-being as much as their livestock.

“Even though we face hardships and difficulties in managing land, and animals, resources, crops, whatever that looks like for people, we also want to build resiliency in our kinds of conversations and in our solution-seeking mindset,” said Tara Dukart, rancher and mental health advocate.

They offer retreats to help producers struggling with mental health. They provide a safe space with tool kits and help start difficult conversations.

“Some people are hesitant to have the conversations about who is stepping up and who is stepping aside, or the tough conversations sometimes in marriages, like, ‘Are you married to me or the ranch?’ And, ‘Where do our priorities lie?’” said Tara Dukart.

NDSU Extension also has mental health resources and a grant-funded program called “Together Counselling,” which partners producers with others in the same boat.

“It was very eye-opening that close to 50% of those producers who responded back to that survey said that they are experiencing one or more symptoms of anxiety and depression,” said Courtney Hoikkala, NDSU Extension family and community wellness agent.

This is work most producers are passionate about, but it comes with physical and mental challenges.

“But in many cases in agriculture, farming, and ranching, there’s also a legacy. And that legacy can provide unintentional pressure from a personal standpoint, on keeping this business afloat, passing it on to the next generation,” said Joshua Dukart, rancher and mental health advocate.

Ending the stigma of mental health starts here.

“Your health is your number one resource as a producer. And so, making sure that you’re taking care of yourself like you want to take care of your crop and your livestock is invaluable,” said Hoikkala.

She says some of the first steps are getting educated and finding resources through your primary health provider and professionals, and looking for statewide support.

Those who are going through a mental health crisis or need support can call 988, a 24-hour crisis lifeline to be connected with someone who can provide more resources. Anyone in need of services can call 211 to be connected with all essential community services locally.

Joshua and Tara Dukart on the Seek First Ranch near Hazen
Joshua and Tara Dukart on the Seek First Ranch near Hazen(KFYR)