More funding needed for popular mental wellness program for farmers

Posted at 8:20 AM, Feb 14, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-14 10:20:52-05

SALT LAKE CITY — For about a year, those who keep Utah’s agriculture industry afloat have been able to take advantage of a newer voucher program that helps them pay for behavioral healthcare.

The vouchers are a major part of the Ag Stress Assistance Program (ASAP) that was launched in March of 2023 by the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food (UDAF) and Utah State University (USU) Extension Ag Wellness.

Eligible farmers and ranchers who applied received free behavioral and mental health vouchers worth up to $2,000. According to UDAF Public Information Officer Bailee Woolstenhulme, they secured $280,000 in federal grant money for the vouchers.

However, Woolstenhulme explained the grant money ran out by December of 2023, about nine months after the voucher program got off the ground.

“I don’t think anybody expected that it would go this fast,” she explained. “It's good that it's being utilized, but also unfortunate that people need to utilize it.”

That’s a sentiment shared by Josh Dallin, associate professor and director of USU’s Bastian Agricultural Center in South Jordan.

Based on data his office has tracked, about 250 farmers and producers have used the vouchers, securing 1,603 doctor appointments.

Dallin said his office continues to receive about 11-20 calls per week from people asking about the vouchers for continuing mental health services.

“I think the biggest message that needs to be sent is that those who have used it, and those who have sought help, have seen a big difference in their life,” Dallin said.

However, Dallin is concerned now that the funding has run out and there’s no clear path on how to acquire more.

He says they’re actively working with UDAF to find potential money sources including public donations, grant opportunities, and state funding options as avenues they’re exploring.

In the meantime, USU Extension Ag Wellness has free resources they're encouraging people to take advantage of.

Additionally, the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress.

Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control Data and Prevention show that ranchers and farmers are nearly two times more likely to die by suicide compared to other professions in the U.S.