Starting a conversation about a mental health challenge is a powerful way to help stop the stigma that often affects friends and colleagues struggling with a mental illness.
“Keep in mind that you don’t need to be a mental health expert to confront stigma,” says Jeff Winton, founder and chairman of Rural Minds, a non-profit association focused on mental health in farm and rural communities.
“By talking openly about mental health and showing compassion for those with mental illness, we can end the silence and stop the stigma of mental illness.”
And that need is acute. According to Winton, suicide rates among people living in rural areas are 64% to 68% higher compared to people living in large urban areas.
In the poultry industry, he says, daily stressors such as losses associated with highly pathogenic avian influenza can exacerbate mental health challenges.
Some ways to start a conversation about mental health:
- “I noticed that you haven’t been yourself lately. Is everything okay with you?”
- “I’ve been worried about you. Can we talk about what’s been troubling you?”
- “It looks like you’re going through a difficult time. How can I help?”
- “You seem really sad/angry. I’m worried that you may be thinking of harming yourself or others. Can we talk?”
Winton offers these tips for having a conversation with someone who may be experiencing a mental health challenge:
- Find a quiet and comfortable place to talk.
- Recognize that a conversation about mental health may not be easy, but it is important.
- Listen actively, make eye contact, and be responsive.
- Let them know that you are concerned and care.
- Offer encouragement and support.
- Ask them how you can help.
- Ask them if they aware of sources of support and be prepared to direct them to relevant information and resources.
If you suspect someone may be suicidal, encourage them to talk, stay with them to provide support and call 988. If appropriate, consider assisting the person with getting the professional help they need following the crisis – such as counseling and mental healthcare, he says.
Together with the National Grange, one of America’s oldest non-profit, nonpartisan, fraternal organizations established in 1867 to advocate for rural America and agriculture, Rural Minds recently launched The Rural Mental Health Resilience Program.
It offers free online resources available to all grassroots organizations and individuals across the country.
“Our goal is to provide the information that can lead to lasting positive change by giving rural residents the tools they need to address mental health and provide hope for the future,” Winton says.
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