Harvesting Heroes: Barron County farmer breaks down mental health stigma

Harvesting Heroes

BARRON COUNTY, Wis. (WLAX/WEUX) – Many say farmers are the small-town heroes that keep our communities moving forward. In our series Harvesting Heroes, we celebrate agriculture workers, whose hard work and innovation make a difference.

In today’s Harvesting Heroes, First News at Nine’s Maria Blough looks at one Barron County farmer shining a light on mental health.

Brittany Olson loves her cows and her life on the farm in Barron County.  She and her husband Sam Milk 40 registered holsteins and jerseys.

Together they make up the 5th generation in agriculture.

Brittany Olson, dairy farmer/mental health advocate said, “It’s a major sense of pride to carry on this family legacy that you know was all but over on my side of the family so just to be able to be where I am today farming, carrying out a family tradition just it just makes my heart swell.” 

Living and working with family and a desire to leave a legacy for the next generation are some of the reasons why Jessica Beauchamp, a social worker, and substance abuse specialist says farmers stand apart from other Wisconsinites.

Beauchamp says these characteristics plus the job’s uncertainties mean farmers can also live with a high amount of stress.

Jessica Beauchamp, social worker/substance abuse specialist said, “Weather, commodity markets. There are just uncontrollable. You know whether the farm field gets flooded out or the herd gets some sort of disease. You have those types of things going on.”

That stress can lead to more illness and injury, like drug abuse, and a higher risk for suicide.

To help with the anxiety, Beauchamp says there are solutions that don’t require major life changes.

She says taking the first step towards help can be the hardest.

“If we can reduce stigma so people will come in sooner, I believe our suicide rate would drop drastically with farmers,” said Beauchamp

That’s where Olson comes in. Olson openly shares her personal struggles with anxiety and depression in hopes it will help others.

“A lot of other people also bear that same cross and they may not know how to deal with it or how to reach out for help and that’s where I can relate to them with my experiences,” said Olson.

She’s also quick to share how she cares for her mental health.

Olson said, “There’s no shame in having to take store-bought neurotransmitters when you can’t make enough of your own. From a self-care perspective that’s one of the biggest things, I do for my own self-care in addition to going to church and having a good support group, and talking to friends and family regularly. I take my meds.”

Though life out in the country can be isolating, Olson’s biggest message to others who may be struggling:

“You’re not alone. You are loved and you matter. And we need you here with all of us.”

For Harvesting Heroes, In Barron County, Maria Blough First News at Nine

Olson says one of the big stresses for farmers is price volatility.

In addition to stigma, cost and living far away from counselors are other barriers for farmers to getting help.

The Farm Center Through the Department Of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection can help farm families connect with mental health resources.

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