CareNet To Provide Services for Statewide Healthy Farmer Program
Some know Adam Ridenhour as manager of chaplaincy and clinical ministries at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist – Davie Medical Center. Some know him as a therapist with CareNet Counseling. Some know him as a doctor of ministry student with Duke University through his research into the importance of community and faith connections in chaplaincy.
But did you know one of his other hats was part-time farmer?
The latter makes Ridenhour uniquely capable of being one of the key figures being tasked by CareNet President Bryan Hatcher with helping launch the mental health component of the statewide Healthy Farmer program, a collaboration between the N.C. Agromedicine Institute at East Carolina University, CareNet, the N.C. Tobacco Trust Fund and Farm Credit, and the North Carolina Department of Agriculture. A grant of more than $80,000 is funding the program.
The goal is to offer ranchers, farmers, migrant workers—anyone with $1,000 in earnings or losses annually related to agricultural work—with access to free mental health care. The program also offers outreach and education about the effects of stress to those who work with those in agriculture, especially agents with the N.C. Cooperative Extension.
“Part of the reason we’re partnering with Cooperative Extension is to help agents recognize signs of illness as they interact with farmers,” Ridenhour says. “”We’d like to expand that to loan officers and other community folks. We know significant portions of farmers who are committing self-harm, and a lot of the stress is financial in nature.”
The idea hits Ridenhour hard.
“For a farmer like myself, living on land that my grandfather farmed, well, if I lose that farm, I’m not just losing a business. I’m losing my heritage, a lifestyle.”
Fortunately for Ridenhour, his family has survived on the land, although his parents and family members, including himself, now focus on beef cattle and honeybee farming, as opposed to the tobacco fields his grandfather once tended.
Ridenhour says he was excited to be called upon to help with establishing the healthy farmer program, for which every CareNet employee recently participated in a five-hour online training.
“I’ve witnessed secondhand many of my family members and community members who have struggled to keep their farms,” he says. During the recession of 2008, many had to make difficult decisions to sell their farms and watch that land be developed for housing. It’s happening today again, especially for dairy farmers, he says.
Ridenhour is aware of studies showing that the male suicide rate among farmers and ranchers is significantly higher than for the general population. In addition, research shows relatively high alcohol and drug use among agriculture workers.
“We’d like to decrease the stigma, raise awareness and normalize the experience of stress among farmers. We want to help them know that they’re not alone, and resources are available for them,” Ridenhour says. “Part of the grant for this program will expand the agromedicine world in terms of preventive care measures for physical and mental health, with a lot of offerings that many not be traditionally available.”
Many in the agriculture field either do not have health plans that cover mental health, or don’t have insurance at all. The Health Farmer program allows up to six free visits with a CareNet therapist (who are reimbursed at their normal rate thanks to the grant). Visits might be by referral from, for example, a cooperative extension agent, or by an agriculture worker aware of the program through community sources. Ridenhour says a new phase of the program soon to begin will result in the hiring of FaithHealth workers in rural areas with a specific goal of identifying those in need of physical or mental health care.
Ridenhour says another unique component of the Healthy Farmer program is the extra training given to therapists in anticipation of working with those in the agriculture field.
“We’re asking them to use whatever their approach normally is, but to tailor their treatment plans to the unique stressors that are alive and well in farmers’ lives.”
The contact number for Healthy Farmer referrals statewide is 336-716-7667.