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Support for mental health tools in rural America urged

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News from the office of Senator Tester

BIG SANDY — As the crisis of farmer suicide continues to rise in rural America amid poor economic conditions, ongoing trade wars, severe weather, and now the coronavirus pandemic, U.S. Senator Jon Tester today demanded that the House and Senate Armed Services Committees ensure that his bipartisan Seeding Rural Resilience Act, which would provide tools to rural communities to prevent suicide, is included as part of the final must-pass National Defense Authorization Act.

Earlier this year, Tester’s bill was included in both the House and Senate versions of NDAA and both chambers must now work to reconcile differences between the two before it can be signed into law. In a bipartisan, bicameral letter to Committee leadership, Tester stressed the need for his bill, demanding that it remain part of the final NDAA that moves forward to the President’s desk .

“It is essential that Congress support folks in production agriculture, especially as they face uncertainty due to weather, trade, and COVID-19,” wrote Tester. “… While this bill is not a silver bullet in solving the mental health crisis in rural America, it provides important investments for the well-being of folks in farm country. We need to ensure that producers have the resources they need to weather this storm so that they can continue to do what they do best—feeding the world.”

Tester continued: “By retaining these critical measures in a conference agreement, Congress can support farm and ranch mental health during a trying time, and broadly continue to support global food security.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the suicide rate is 45 percent higher in rural America than in urban areas, and Montana already has one of the highest suicide rates in the country. Americans in rural communities deal with substantial isolation, significant travel times for basic health services, lack of broadband access that would enable tele-health services, and stigmas against receiving counseling.

In addition, financial burdens caused by the Trump Administration’s trade war have resulted in even more stress for American farmers and ranchers, making life tougher for those trying to make a living in rural communities.

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 de-stigmatize mental health care in rural communities.

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.

 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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