MADISON, Wis. (WLAX/WEUX) – Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin is pushing for bipartisan legislation to increase funding for rural mental health resources.

The Farmers First Act of 2023 would reauthorize the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network funding, boosting it from $10 million to $15 million for the next five years. Those funds would be distributed to organizations across the country.

“I think as farmers and part of our farming culture is, we really feel like we should take care of everybody,” said Karen Endres, a farmer and part of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture. “They don’t have access to as many resources, and it is really critical that we educate and bring these tools out to them.”

Endres, the farmer wellness program coordinator for the state’s agriculture department, says getting the at-risk community, that is farmers and ranchers, more help is exposure to more tools and resources. According to the National Rural Health Association, the suicide rate for farmers is three and a half times higher than for the general public. A study from the association found 61% of farmers and ranchers reported stress and mental health challenges in 2021.

“It’s really important as they are out more isolated in those parts of the state that we really educate them and try to help them understand why mental health is important what it is and provide them with resources and links so that they can get help if they need it,” said Endres.

She says the funding the bill plans to increase to FRSAN helps fund Wisconsin organizations like the Farmer Wellness Program. This offers resources like the Wisconsin Farmer Wellness Helpline, counseling vouchers, and tele-counseling. Endres says reaching them where they are is especially key because of the remote locations of many farmers, making tele-counseling a critical tool.

“Making mental health a regular conversation is so important. We need to break down that stigma; just because you need to talk to somebody about your mental health doesn’t mean you have a mental illness,” said Endres.

Resources can be found on the organization’s website, and the number for the helpline is 1-888-901-2558.