Talking about someone’s worries could help prevent a suicide - Indiana Corn and Soy

Talking about someone’s worries could help prevent a suicide

Kathy Walker and Abby Heidenreich explained there are data that show the act of broaching the topic with a person feeling suicidal ideation – the contemplation of, wish for or preoccupation with suicide – does not cause suicide. In fact, bringing up the topic may relieve the person Kathy Walker in crisis.

“It shows you care, and not being afraid to talk about the hard topics shows you are there for them and want what’s best for them,” said Heidenreich, an ag and natural resources educator in Orange County and part of Purdue University Extension’s Farm Stress Team.

And Walker, program coordinator with the Indiana Rural Health Association (IRHA), noted broaching the topic is not going to put ideas of suicide into someone’s mind – whether they’re already having such thoughts or are dealing with a less extreme mental health struggle.

“Don’t be afraid to ask, ‘Are you thinking about suicide?’” she said. (There are “softer” ways to approach as well – “Have you been unhappy lately?” or some variation may be more appropriate for your style.) If this family member, friend or close colleague answers any variation of “yes,” resist the urge to argue “you shouldn’t feel that way,” “oh, that’s crazy,” “you don’t mean that” or the like. Instead, Walker advises letting the person talk about their problems and perceptions – “Can you tell me about how you’re feeling?” is one such encourager.

Also: Listen carefully and be compassionate. “You really need to listen to what they’re saying without judgment” as well as pay attention to things they’re not saying, in some cases.

Heidenreich added someone who admits to suicidal ideation should not be left alone. Accompany them or help them seek/call for the professional referral they need. “Let them know you need them to be alive, and that you will be there to help,” she emphasized.

Rural Health workshops

To help rural Hoosiers better learn these steps, the IRHA hosted workshops this winter as part of its Healthy Minds, Healthy Lives mental health initiative with a focus on QPR – Question, Persuade and Refer. QPR is to mental health what CPR is to physical health: It’s about learning to recognize the warning signs of a health crisis, then intervening and assisting in getting professional help.

The workshops are on hold for the moment but should resume after planting season to give more farmers and ag workers opportunity to attend. Walker said this also gives the IRHA team time to retool them from just being about QPR and suicide prevention into a broader community conversation about rural stress and mental wellness.

“What we’re trying to do with the workshops is go into these communities and have discussions about mental health, mental wellness, signs and symptoms of stress and how those signs can manifest into mental health issues,” she explained. “In that mix, we must talk about suicide because if signs are not treated or acknowledged, they can manifest into suicidal ideation.

“While QPR is a piece of what we do … we really want to just have these conversations with our farming communities to try and help reduce the stigma , recognize it for what it is, and have those conversations that aren’t being had.”

“It’s a very scary topic and it’s a very heavy topic,” Heidenreich, who grew up on a Gibson County farm, said of suicide, “but it’s one that needs to be addressed headon. So many of us have attended too many funerals.”

Symptoms of suicidal ideation may include verbal statements about wanting to die or feeling the world would be better without them in it; withdrawing from loved ones and favorite activities; trauma from one or more major losses; and others enumerated in the list of “Warning Signs” online at

Sometimes, a person is experiencing depression or mental stress but is not suicidal. It’s as important to give them a chance to open up.

Simultaneous efforts

The IRHA workshops are part of a rural mental health push funded by a 2021 USDA National Institute for Food and Agriculture $500,000 grant administered by the Indiana State Department of Agriculture. Another effort is Purdue Farm Stress Team’s creation of specialized curriculum on rural stress response for call-center workers being trained to staff the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s (NSPL) “988” rollout this summer.

In 2020, the Federal Communications Commission adopted rules to establish dialing 988 to reach the NSPL – in the same way one would dial 911 for an emergency. By July 16, phone service providers and covered text providers are required to connect all 988 calls to the NSPL, just as dialing 1-800-273-TALK (8255) does now.

Heidenreich said Purdue staff has drafted a training module for call-center workers to help them respond specifically to rural and ag callers. The module was going to be simply an option for workers, but has since been designated required training for all. “Which is awesome,” she noted.

The training will teach phone responders how stressors for farmers differ from what most people experience regularly and how to talk about them. “There’s an element of volatility that exists in agriculture, that does not exist in other industries,” she pointed out – weather, markets, interest rates, trade and so much else that directly affects a farmer’s life and bank account.

Dr. Michael Rosmann

Dr. Michael Rosmann, an Iowa psychologist who studies and treats ag behavioral health, has written extensively on what he calls “the agrarian imperative” – the urge in farmers to acquire sufficient land and resources to produce enough food and ag goods to help others thrive. This imperative is tied with farmers’ mental well-being, and threats to it – particularly financial stressors – can make one react with alarm.

In 2019, Rosmann noted at an Indiana conference that suicide in ag-related occupations was about 60 percent higher than among the general population. In the last two years, Heidenreich pointed to the addition of Covid-19 with its stressors, including the possibility of illness (or death) as well as resultant tougher staffing issues and supply-chain shortages.

Farmers who didn’t lose their operations in the past two years are facing obstacles such as a 300 percent increase in fertilizer prices – to name one. “It’s like one gut-punch right after another for these farmers,” she said.

Recognize symptoms of stress and change habits

It’s important to recognize both the symptoms of stress and how to cool off. Many farmers will bottle up emotions to put on a brave face for family or self-medicate with food, alcohol or a variety of unhealthy habits. Heidenreich’s own grandfather worked successfully through the 1980s farm crisis – but died in the early 1990s of a heart attack, leaving her father in charge of the operation as a young man. As a result, Heidenreich grew up in a family that took vacations and smaller breaks for things like ball games and other relaxation off-the-farm.

It’s a positive shift she has seen in other farmers in the last 15 years.


• To attend IRHA’s workshops,, join its mailing list and monitor planned events visit,

• The Farm Stress team produces a free podcast, “Tools for Today’s Farmer,” that can be found wherever you get your podcasts or through https://extension.

• If someone you know is contemplating suicide, help them call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to seek professional help.

• Visit for a chat feature as well as additional crisis resources for veterans, the deaf and hard-of-hearing, teens, LGBTQ+ kids and more.

• Dial 988 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL)

• If a suicide attempt has occurred, immediately call 911 or get the person to the closest emergency room.

Find #SoyHelp during Mental Awareness Month

This May during Mental Health Month, the American Soybean Association and United Soybean Board/Our Soy Checkoff is sharing resources to combat #FarmStress and offer #SoyHelp. The U.S. soy industry is devoted to the wellbeing of farmers – including combating farm stress so often experienced by growers and their families.

The #SoyHelp campaign includes the #SoyHelp social media posts on ASA & USB’s Facebook and Twitter; related content shared in both organization’s newsletters; editorials from soy growers on their encounters with #FarmStress; and advice from professionals on the subjects of farm stress and seeking emotional support.

A range of mental health resources, both national and state-specific, are available on, under the “#SoyHelp for Farm Stress Resources” page. These materials include:

• National mental health resources, including crisis centers and suicide hotlines

• Agriculture-specific resources for farmers and farm families, both national and by soy state

Included in the resources are links to self-assessments, professional services, and local health care facilities; hotlines for urgent needs; warmlines for helpful advice; chat and text lines for instant access; and articles on symptoms, solutions, and how to start uncomfortable but healthy discussions.

ASA and USB care and want to be a source of information and ideas for seeking qualified help. If you or someone else is struggling, visit for an updated list of both Indiana-specific and national resources to find help.






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