As the stress of the national situation continues, in addition to concerns and problems related to weather, farm markets, and a changing rural economy, Iowa State University Extension and mental health agencies are offering information, education and counseling services to Iowa's farm and rural families.
"Mental health services can help relieve stress," said Jim Meek, special projects manager for ISU Extension to Families. "But historically rural Iowans do not make use of mental health services until a crisis occurs. Also, services in rural areas often are located a great distance from some families, and the office hours do not accommodate the schedules of farmers.
"Farm and rural families may have limited financial resources, making it difficult to pay for services. Others feel there is a stigma associated with the use of mental health services. We want to get past these barriers," Meek added.
Seven regional committees consisting of extension educators and mental health providers have now developed plans for providing information, education and linkages to services for individuals and families who need counseling and other supports.
The northwest Iowa steering committee for the project, Rural Health Initiative, includes Ester Mae Cox, Extension education director, Woodbury County; Mary Snow, families specialist, Cherokee; Jerry Weiss, swine specialist, Pocahontas; Peggy Haafke, Area Extension education director, Sioux City; Jim Muth, Plains Area Health, Le Mars; Mae Hingtgen, Cherokee County Central Point of Coordination Administration, Cherokee; and Diane Patton, Ecumenical Ministries of Iowa, Rockwell City.
"Iowa has regional differences in economic stress, in access to services and in community support mechanisms to help struggling families deal with problems," Meek said. "The regional focus of the project will allow different approaches throughout the state.
"The regional teams are supported by ISU Extension state specialists from the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, the College of Agriculture and ISU Extension 4-H Youth Development," Meek said.
Senator Tom Harkin and his staff were instrumental in securing the special appropriation grant for Iowa through the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Agency, Meek added. The project received funding August 1, and funding continues until July 31, 2002.
"In rural northwest Iowa, family farm businesses play a vital role in community viability," according to Rhonda K. Christensen, BV County Extension education director. "The area has some of the state's richest farm ground and extensive livestock production. The past two years have brought localized areas of weather extremes. Despite governmental support for low commodity prices, emotional and financial stress is on the rise.
"Many individuals and families are unaware of helping agencies and services and how to access them," Christensen said. "Our goal in northwest Iowa is to increase awareness. We'll share information about resources with rural individuals and families. We want to provide training for clergy, teachers, lenders and farm agency personnel to assist them in helping families.
"We'll also share ISU Extension's family financial management information with clergy. In Buena Vista County, we will be working with Seasons Center for Community Mental Health to provide one-on-one services to families," Christensen added.
For more information, contact Seasons at 712-732-3736 or the Extension office at 712-732-5056.