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Mental health takes center stage at 2023 farm show

Penn State Extension held an educational presentation on suicide prevention to highlight the mental health struggles agriculture workers face.

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Mental health struggles impact many people; however, farmers face a variety of unique stresses. 

Penn State Extension educators took the stage at the Pennsylvania Farm Show to discuss suicide prevention in the agriculture community.

“Rural areas are 3.5 times higher than urban for their instances of suicide," Penn State Extension Educator Chi Catalone said.

Catalone later clarified that statement to reflect rural farmers. When simply comparing rural to urban, the disparity is much wider.

"A study done by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania in 2021 that shows that in 2018, rural counties had a suicide rate 25% higher than urban counties," Catalone wrote via email/

CDC statistics also show agriculture workers have a significantly higher rate of suicide than other occupations.

It's an issue Darla Johnson keeps close at heart.

“One day, she decided she couldn’t take the pain anymore," Johnson said. "She chose suicide.”

Johnson's sister took her own life in 2017. She says conversations about mental health aren't popular in agriculture – and that needs to change.

"It's something hard to talk about, but needs to be talked about," Johnson said.

Multiple Penn State Extension initiatives provide help to those in need, and aim to break stigmas around mental health. Special training known as QPR, short for Question, Persuade, and Refer, helps people identify warning signs and approach such situations.

“It's teaching people to be able to ask difficult questions, persuade someone to get help, and learn available resources to refer that person for help," Catalone said.

The system also has their mental health first aid and suicide prevention webinar.

Johnson says she will continue to share her sister's story, in hopes it might help others shine on.

"She continues to shine, and there's many ways throughout you know today, tomorrow that her life will continue," Johnson said.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, the resources below are available to help:

  • 988 - Suicide and Crisis Lifeline
  • +1 (833) 897-2474 - Pennsylvania's AgriStress mental health hotline 

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