Raising rural mental health awareness

Psychologist shares tools for handling stress at New Ulm Farm Show

NEW ULM — Mental health practitioner Ted Matthews of Hutchinson said farming is unlike any other profession with its unique challenges at the 2019 Farm Show Friday.

“Farming is a very complex way of life, much more than it was in the past. Farming and stress are synonymous,” Matthews said. “Work ethnic is not caused by a philosophy. It comes from work. If you learn a good work ethic, you’re better off.”

Matthews said he got involved with farmers after the severe floods of 1993 and 1996-1997. He began working with the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system Farm Business Management program in 1998.

The fundamental goal of the program is to help rural people address various emotional issues arising from a rural economy experiencing rapid change and the effects of farm consolidation on farmers and those that don’t farm.

Offering free services to farmers, people who work around them and their relatives, Matthews continues to work with crisis intervention to help farmers relate to their families and workers to better utilize their resources.

“More and more women are working off the farm now to work off debt load. It’s a horrible reason to have to work,” Matthews said. “When I began working with farmers 25 years ago, the divorce rate on farms were lower than it was for people in town. Now they’re about the same.”

Matthews said men and women don’t communicate the same way.

“When a woman gets stressed, they want to talk. When a man does, he walks away and it doesn’t get resolved,” Matthews said. “I say no swearing. It’s hard to lose control and not swear.”

In addition, Matthews said the public needs to be educated about what it’s like to farm.

“Ten percent of dairy farmers went out of business last year. Another 10 percent are forecast to get out of it this year,” Matthews said. “We need to work on how we can feel better by taking care of ourselves first. It’s really important. It’s not selfish, it’s healthy.”

Matthews suggested do two-way communication at least 15 minutes a day.

“I love what I do. That’s why I still do it at 71,” Matthews said.

He said one of the things that frustrates him is when the government has money to help farmers and just sits on it.

“The government needs to spend money in the right way to be effective,” Matthews said.

In addition, he voiced optimism about new Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and his staff.

“I think he is really focused on farming and cares about farmers,” Matthews said. “He (Walz) changed the Minnesota Agriculture Committee. I see some good things coming from the state of Minnesota to agriculture.”

Regarding passing on the farm to family members, he urged farmers to plan for and make decisions before someone else does for them.

Losing family farms and when people who do the work are not properly compensated are things Matthews said frustrates him.

One farmer at the seminar said he just wants good memories of farming and not regretting the career he chose.

Coping tools for farm stress and for others for that matter include time management, relaxing with hobbies, meditation, positive thinking, travel, laughter, exercise, and music therapy.


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