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  • Writer's pictureKriss Marion

Helping Friends in Need: New Wisconsin Women in Conservation Series on Mental Health Peer Support

Updated: Jan 6, 2022

Women farmers and landowners wear multiple hats and juggle various responsibilities, often providing emotional support to family and community. We all live in a stressful space at one time or another – and for one reason or another. For many, the holiday season takes an extra toll on mental health, as do the Winter months. Starting in January, Wisconsin Women in Conservation (WiWiC) is pleased to partner with Farm Well Wisconsin to provide two-hour virtual regional trainings to help women learn to identify someone in need, and respond intentionally, but not burn out.

Chris Frakes, Director of Farm Well Wisconsin

“Mental health is a topic that impacts everyone. For better or worse, women often take on the role of providing emotional support for their families and extended networks - acting as counselors, confidants, and mediators,” says Chris Frakes, director of Farm Well Wisconsin.

“It is vital to learn the skills needed to carry out those roles more effectively and to learn how to set boundaries that protect your own wellbeing.”

Participants will explore the “COMET” method, which stands for Changing Our Mental and Emotional Trajectory. This program aims to change the trajectory of someone in a vulnerable space, and headed towards crisis, back towards a place of wellness. The workshops, led by FarmWell and WiWiC facilitators, will be in a “Learning Circle” format, encouraging peer-to-peer interaction among participants. They will practice being that person who says or does something to offer support, care, or a referral and causes a positive change.

A recently-released poll from American Farm Bureau Federation suggests that the stigma around mental health conversations is becoming less of an issue in the nation's farming communities, but that those in crisis would still prefer to talk to a peer rather than a professional. The study found that a majority of rural adults agree that cost (66%), accessibility (56%), availability (55%), embarrassment (52%) and stigma (51%) would be a barrier if they were seeking help for a mental health condition. There was an 11% decrease among farmers/farm workers who say stigma is an obstacle to seeking help or treatment for a mental health condition; however, a majority (61%) still say it is an obstacle.

More than 9 in 10 (92%) farmers/farm workers say they would be comfortable talking about solutions with a friend or family member who is dealing with stress or a mental health condition. See the full slide deck here.

Farm Well Wisconsin works in Southwestern Wisconsin to develop and offer resources that support the health and wellbeing of farmers, farmworkers, and their families. The group believes that farming well depends on taking care of our bodies, minds, emotions, and relationships. Rural communities lack enough mental health professionals to meet the need, especially during times like the pandemic and tough economic downturns. “Ordinary people can help fill the gap,” says Frakes. She was featured in this 2021 MOSES Organic Farming Podcast talking about how peer-to-peer conversations can be effective in preventing suicide, and she was interviewed on the Midwest Farm Report in December.

“Neighbors helping neighbors is a deep-seated rural value. We do not hesitate to assist our neighbors when they are impacted by a house fire, but when we notice that a neighbor is struggling with stress or depression, sometimes we are unsure,” says Frakes. “COMET believes in the power of everyday interactions. By learning a simple, effective strategy for engaging with people who are stressed, we can make a difference.”

Wisconsin Women in Conservation is a state-wide collaborative effort led by the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute in partnership with Wisconsin Farmers Union, Renewing the Countryside and the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES). A three-year multi-faceted project funded by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), WiWiC brings together Wisconsin women landowners to connect and learn about conservation practices, resources, and funding opportunities.

WiWiC team members reached out to Farm Well Wisconsin to offer the workshops after becoming aware of the need for mental health resources while facilitating their own conservation education events in 2021.

Sara George, WiWiC West Central Region Coordinator
"There is nothing more satisfying than being a farmer, looking over your land with pride thinking 'I did that.' But it comes with its struggles too. As a farmer myself, isolated in the country with my houseful of kids, chores and day to day challenges, I have really enjoyed the WiWiC events with other women, sitting in our learning circles openly sharing our triumphs and our struggles," said WiWiC West Central Region Coordinator Sara George. "But listening to women sharing their challenges so openly made me realize that this space opens vulnerabilities that we should be prepared to watch for and address in some way. And therefore, we at WiWiC are doing the best thing possible by providing support to women around mental health. We are training our team and our participants on what to look for and what to say. We are providing a safe place for conversations that may be very difficult. We are here to support other women, to listen and allow them to be heard."

COMET attendees will come away from the workshop with a concrete, actionable set of skills that will increase their confidence in reaching out to friends, family members, and acquaintances who are in a vulnerable space. Through robust discussion, and one-on-one roleplay, attendees learn how to hold space for someone who is struggling, and to set aside their concern that they must know all the answers or how to “fix” the other person’s problem. The trainings are organized by region to facilitate community among neighbors, but are welcome to all women farmers, landowners, and conservationists. Space is limited and events are not recorded to encourage story-sharing among participants. Registration is FREE but necessary to obtain the Zoom link. More information and registration is at Northeast COMET Training, Jan. 20, 10am-noon Marathon, Portage, Shawano, Waupaca, Outagamie and Brown Counties West Central COMET Training, Feb. 3, 10am-noon Pierce, Pepin and Buffalo Counties Northwest COMET Training, Feb. 17, 10am-noon Polk, Barron, and Dunn Counties Southwest COMET Training, Mar. 3, 10am-noon Vernon, Crawford and Grant Counties Southeast COMET Training, Mar. 17, 10am-noon Walworth, Racine and Milwaukee Counties

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