Course trains to identify, help with mental illness


By Joanie Stiers

A Mental Health First Aid course tailored to agriculture teaches how to recognize mental health concerns and properly respond, essentially providing CPR training for the mind.

Carle Hospital and Illinois Farm Bureau will host their first agriculture-focused Mental Health First Aid course July 30 at the Champaign County Farm Bureau. The organizations scheduled a second eight-hour certification course Aug. 22 at Coles County Farm Bureau.

“Coming from a farm family and understanding what anxiety can do to a person, I think this is a great opportunity to help break the stigma and for people to learn and understand that mental health is just as important as physical health,” said Amy Rademaker, a certified course instructor and Carle’s rural health and farm safety program coordinator. “I think if we better understand mental health and assist people with getting help, the better off we are as a community.”

Mental Health First Aid, a national program taught by local instructors, interactively teaches participants how to recognize signs of mental illness or substance abuse. Participants also gain skills on proper ways to respond and help someone experiencing mental health concerns or a crisis.

While offered throughout the United States, few of these courses use farm scenarios during the instruction like the ones scheduled at the Farm Bureau buildings in Champaign and Coles counties, said Jackie Jones, IFB’s associate field support director. Dependent on the response from these first courses, IFB may partner with other providers throughout the state to schedule more farm-focused courses.

“It’s a hands-on approach that gives participants the background knowledge of how to deal with a mental health concern, who to contact and what to do,” said Jones, personally motivated by an uncle who died of suicide. “A lot of farmers we know are private and don’t want to reach out for help.”

Rademaker realized the agriculture community’s heightened interest in mental wellness when she spoke on the topic to a standing-room-only crowd at IFB’s Governmental Affairs Conference. The response at that conference in February indicated genuine concerns with mental health months before the most stressful and emotional spring of recent memory.

Related: Mental health poll reveals farmer stressesRead more here.

Farm families, agribusiness professionals, rural EMTs and rural clergy can benefit from this adult-only class, Rademaker said. Many county Farm Bureau managers already have registered for the course.

“It’s a national program, and all we are doing is helping connect the dots to our farming population,” Rademaker said. “It seems to be a very effective, well-received program when you look around the U.S., and we’re hoping it does the same here.”