Summit aims to help producers handle farm stress

Amber Dykshorn, left, whose husband died by suicide earlier this year, speaks with Andrea Bjornestad, an assistant professor and mental health specialist with SDSU Extension, about the pressures farmers face during the South Dakota Farm and Ranch Stress Summit, a three-day event which began Monday in Oacoma.

OACOMA -- Three months ago, Amber Dykshorn's husband, Chris, died after stress over the family's Platte farm became unbearable.

On Monday morning, Dykshorn shared her story with attendees of the South Dakota Farm and Ranch Stress Summit who had gathered to learn more about how to handle their own stress in an increasingly high-pressure industry.

“He would say to me he couldn’t shut his mind off, thinking about the financials and the crops, and should he take prevent plant?" Dykshorn told the summit's 110 participants at the Arrowwood Cedar Shore Resort and Conference Center, referencing her husband's last weeks. "He just felt like the decisions he would make should affect the next couple years of farming, and he was afraid that he wouldn’t make the right decision.”

The summit, which continues through Wednesday, is co-hosted by SDSU Extention's rural behavioral health team and the South Dakota Counselors Association. The majority of the summit is scheduled into breakout sessions, in which participants can select from a number of topics relating to the challenges currently facing South Dakota's producers. Most of those sessions are related to behavioral health practices.

“I’ve been at this for 40 years, and we’ve made a little bit of progress, but not enough," said Mike Rosmann, a farmer and psychologist from Iowa who delivered the summit's keynote address Monday.


Rosmann said that factors a producer can’t control, such as weather, disease, financial issues or personal health, are the most important contributors to their stress.

He also said that, unlike those who work in other industries, producers' stress is coupled with the fact that their workplace is almost always their home, making it difficult to get away from stress at the end of the day.

While stigma, costs and lack of access to care continue to be obstacles for farmers in South Dakota and other rural areas -- currently, the state has half as many mental health professionals in rural areas as in urban ones -- Rosmann said one positive trend he's seen is an increase in farmers' and ranchers' willingness to open up to one another and to seek help for stress and other struggles that factor into their mental health.

Candace Mizera, a farmer and rancher from McLaughlin, said she came to the summit to do just that. Mizera told The Daily Republic that she hoped to both learn more techniques for reducing her stress and to share with other participants some methods she's used to alleviate some of her that stress, such as diversifying what she's producing.

"Having cows and crops has made our operation more viable, and even though there's sometimes more work, it's eased the stress level at certain times of the year," Mizera said.

Kayle Lauck, a junior at McCook Central High School, said she attended the summit as part of a research project she's been doing on farmers' mental health since last year and was happy to see an event sparking conversation among farmers about stress.

Lauck said her interest in mental health among farmers stemmed both from programs in school and from experiences with her own family, such as those her grandfather shared with her after his retirement from farming.

"He started opening up a lot about how he went through a lot more than all of us were even aware of," Lauck said. "Knowing that that was when I was out on the farm with him, just as a little kid, it's crazy how closely impacted so many farmers are."


Dykshorn encouraged those in attendance to help one another and said farmers need to know they have full support from people around them.

“Just know that you’re not alone," she said. "There’s others out there that are struggling. Just reach out for help, and don’t be afraid to talk to somebody.”

Psychiatrist and farmer Michael Rosmann addresses attendees at the South Dakota Farm and Ranch Stress Summit Monday morning at the Arrowwood Cedar Shore Resort and Conference Center in Oacoma. (Ellen Bardash / Republic)

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