Addressing Mental Health in the Workplace
Access Resources, Begin Conversation About Mental Health
No matter what they do each day, people who work in agriculture are known to be tenacious, hard-working, strong and dedicated. They are unstoppable, dependable and steadfast. After all, if you work in agriculture, you are responsible for feeding the world—people and animals alike!
It’s a lot of pressure.
Throw in the fact there is no way to control the weather and the societal expectations to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and it can be downright daunting.
Even if people don’t want to talk about mental health in our industry, more and more folks are understanding it’s an issue that simply cannot be ignored.
Lives depend on us talking about this.
Austin Uhrig is safety manager for Western Cooperative (WESTCO) in Nebraska’s panhandle. Among other things, it’s his job to oversee compliance and manage safety programs and policies. He also serves as president of GEAPS Oregon Trail Chapter.
Uhrig understands mental health and stress management have a lot to do with safety. While it was always important, Uhrig said he thinks it is even more relevant today.
When the pandemic hit and so many Americans were able to work from home, that wasn’t an option for most people working in agriculture. They still had to go in. The world was depending on them more than ever and supply chain issues were the stuff of nightmares.
“You had this ongoing stress, ongoing anxiety—you’re going to get COVID; you’re going to get really sick—and, by the way, you still have to go to work,” Uhrig said.
Add on worry about bringing illness home to family, it was a lot to bear.
“It was a just a lot and it was so unfamiliar. I don’t know that a lot of people knew how to cope and manage,” he said. “That was put on all of the stuff we were dealing with prior to COVID. It just piled up and, when things start piling up on people, it hurts. Sometimes, people don’t know how to talk about that.”
Mental wellbeing isn’t just about an individual’s state of mind—its ripples can be seen in employee turnover, attendance and safety incidents.
“If you got a guy who is out sick two days out of every month, that’s a pretty easy giveaway this guy is dealing with more than just his physical health,” Uhrig said. “At some point in time, I think you need to have that conversation.”
When he sees someone struggling, Uhrig works to connect them to help.
“I don’t get into deep, deep conversations with employees. There are more qualified people who can do that, but I certainly am willing to help an employee get turned in the right direction,” Uhrig said.
The Right Direction
This summer, Uhrig invited Kristen Rose to a chapter meeting, and then invited any GEAPS member to attend virtually. While he knows meetings with golf outings get more attendees, Uhrig knew it was important to open the dialogue.
“It’s such a hard conversation to have that I don’t think, without somebody pushing it, it’s a conversation that’s had by many,” he said.
Rose is a Licensed Professional Mental Health Counselor in Sydney, Nebraska. In her work, she has done a lot of work related to mental health as it relates to agriculture. While folks in ag may not want to talk about this, they must. She said people who work in farming, agriculture and forestry have the highest suicide rate compared to other professional groupings. The national average is 16 completed suicides per 100,000 people. In our industry, we’re at 64 completed suicides per 100,000 people.
“The ag industry is different because they are at the mercy of the elements and that is a huge impact on your mental health,” she said. “I say the word suicide around some folks and I see them pucker up. Saying it isn’t going to make it more likely. If anything, people will have a sense of relief that somebody else brought it up.”
Rose said there are many things people can do to look out for their teams at work. This might include having a list of resources available for others to view. It might mean offering coffee and donuts once a week. The simple offering shows you care, but also provides a means to get to know the personal side of folks—making it easier to spot when something is off.
“Offering a place to have that connection, that does a lot for somebody,” Rose said.
When Rose visited the Oregon Trail chapter, she trained members on what to do when they notice someone struggling. QPR Training is designed to equip anyone with three steps to use when they encounter someone who is in trouble. Standing for Question, Persuade, Refer, the training is offered by Rose and professionals all over—including where you live. Most training is free; some may come with a small fee as participants receive a book.
To find training in your area, visit qprinstitute.com
Visit GEAPS Video Library for Resources
Some of you may have caught Dr. Brenda Mack in a recent GEAPS webinar. Her webinar, titled “Address Stress, Exhaustion and Worrying Among Individuals in the Grain Industry” talked about using a skill most in our industry are good at—problem solving—to address topics some want brushed under the rug—stress and mental health.
Mack is a behavioral health and wellness consultant, trainer, presenter, researcher and an assistant professor in the Social Work department at Bemidji State University. She has worked as a program manager, therapist and health crisis responder. Among other accomplishments, Mack helped launch school-based mental health services in 21 school districts.
Her webinar addresses stress in our industry and brings techniques to address that stress.
“Focus on what’s right and then build from there,” Mack said. “When things get difficult or when you have a coworker who’s going through a divorce and might be a little more edgy or angry at work, how can you help to raise their awareness about that while they’re going through this difficult time?”
GEAPS members may view Macks’s webinar free in GEAPS Video Library. Take it as a first step to start talking about this important topic.
Visit www.geaps.com/videolibrary to learn more.
Need help or know someone in crisis?
Call or text 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline
By Jessica Waltzer
GEAPS Communications Manager