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Government News
Bill Addresses MH Needs of Farm, Ranch Families
Psychiatric News
Volume 43 Number 12 page 18-19

Additional mental health support for rural Americans has appeared on the horizon, if from an unexpected direction.

Deep inside the recently passed farm bill lies a provision to create a Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network to help "individuals who are engaged in farming, ranching, and other agriculture-related occupations."

The program calls for establishing a system of competitive grants to state cooperative extension services, which will then contract with nonprofit, community-based organizations to provide counseling or referral to mental health services.

"There are a lot of unknowns, but overall the effect is positive," said Rick Peterson, Ph.D., president-elect of the National Association for Rural Mental Health and an assistant professor of family development and resource management at Texas A&M University, in an interview.

Covered services include telephone helplines and Web sites, community education, support groups, and outreach services.

"The program will raise awareness of stress among farm and ranching populations," said Peterson. "States that have an existing infrastructure linking extension and mental health services may have a leg up on developing proposals for the new grants, but even states that don't can build on traditional extension programs like community education or outreach."

The rural mental health care provision was adapted from a separate bill proposed last fall by Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa). Boswell was also instrumental in passage of the Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act, which directed the Department of Veterans Affairs to develop and implement a comprehensive program to reduce suicide among military veterans.

The stress-assistance program found a home in a $307 billion piece of legislation best known for subsidizing wheat, corn, and cotton prices, but it should be considered "germane" to the bill's overall intent since it affects people who live in rural areas, Susan McAvoy, Boswell's chief of staff, told Psychiatric News.

Money for the new program must come from a separate appropriations bill, but Congress is expected to pass that, said McAvoy.

Congress overrode President Bush's veto of the farm bill in May, but due to a technical error, the entire bill must be repassed—and presumably revetoed and reoverridden—before it becomes law. ▪

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