Gov. Tony Evers met Feb. 7 with National Farm Medicine Center scientists and staff during a visit to Marshfield Medical Center in Marshfield. The discussion focused on the Evers Administration's investments in farmer and rural mental health, and the research Farm Medicine is conducting around mental health.
Evers declared 2023 the Year of Mental Health during his State of the State address last month. Participating in the discussion were Casper “Cap" Bendixsen, Ph.D., director, National Farm Medicine Center in Marshfield Clinic Research Institute; Florence Becot, Ph.D., rural sociologist at Farm Medicine; and Julie Kaprelian, Ph.D., child psychologist, Marshfield Children's Hospital.
“We appreciate the governor's emphasis on this issue, and his taking the time to come to Marshfield," said Bendixsen. “Mental health care is a major concern for Wisconsin and the U.S. more generally. Within these challenges, there are those that are uniquely detrimental to rural areas."
One question Becot asks farmers is, are they concerned about debt if faced with major medical expenses? “What we found is that over half of farmers said 'yes, we're concerned that we couldn't pay these bills,'" said Becot.
Becot said insurance costs and childcare are two of the largest stressors impacting farmer's mental health. Becot said two-thirds of the farmers they surveyed said they had concerns about cost, access and quality of childcare.
Access to mental health care is a key part of addressing the crisis; Kaprelian described how Primary Care and Behavioral Health work together where staff can do a warm handoff (from a physical appointment to a mental health consultation) so that patients can get both services without making two appointments. “Being able to treat the physical body and the emotional health demonstrates that we are meeting patients with the care they need where they are at," said Kaprelian.
Prior to the discussion, Evers also toured the Melvin R. Laird office and conference room contained in the George E. Magnin Medical Library, which houses photos and many items from Laird's political career as a leader in both the military, health and human services, and health research. Evers also met with local media who covered his visit to Marshfield.
Farm Medicine has a history of mental health research and outreach dating to a study on suicide among Upper Midwest farm residents and farm workers during the 1980s. In 2019, Farm Medicine hosted state legislators of the Speaker's Task Force on Suicide Prevention, who conducted a public hearing at Marshfield Medical Center. Also in 2019, Farm Medicine organized the Mental Health First Aid for Rural Wisconsin education series and provided expertise to the US Veterans Affairs veteran-to-farmer wellness program, both with philanthropic support from the Auction of Champions. The three workshops provided training for farm communities to recognize, react to and prevent mental health emergencies.