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Congress approves legislation seeking to lower rural suicide rate

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The Seeding Rural Resilience Act, legislation aimed at curbing the rising suicide rate in rural areas, was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The bill is currently awaiting President Donald Trump’s signature.

The legislation was introduced in the U.S. Senate by Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Jon Tester, D-Mont., both active farmers.

The senators cited data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, showing the suicide rate 45 percent higher in rural America than in urban areas. Americans in rural communities face isolation, distance from basic health care services, lack of broadband access, stigmas against receiving counseling, and financial burdens due to stagnant crop prices. These factors cause higher rates of stress for American farmers and ranchers, making it even harder for people in rural communities to get by.

The Seeding Rural Resilience Act creates three initiatives aimed at curbing the growing rate of suicides in rural America:

  • Implements a Farmer-Facing Employee Training Program that requires the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide voluntary stress management training to Farm Service Agency, Risk Management Agency and National Resources Conservation Service Employees;
  • Forms a partnership between the Department of Health and Human Services and USDA to create a $3 million public service announcement campaign to increase public awareness of farm and ranch stress and destigmatize mental health care in rural communities; and
  • Directs the Secretary of Agriculture to work with state, local and nongovernmental stakeholders to collaborate and determine best practices for responding to farm and ranch mental stress.

“Farmers and ranchers are some of the most resilient people you will ever meet,” said AFBF President Zippy Duvall. “But times are tough on the farm, and with challenges from weather, trade and low commodity prices, it can definitely wear down the resiliency of farmers. AFBF commends Senators Tester and Grassley for introducing the Seeding Rural Resilience Act, which will be instrumental in bringing mental health resources and awareness to rural communities.”

Anyone experiencing a mental health crisis can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK, or 1-800-273-8255.

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