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Help for mental health issues is available for the ag community

Amy Hadachek
for The Fence Post
Pictured left to right are Ann Kasl, RN/program director, Candace Fielder, LSCSW, Ronda Spooner,office patient coordinator and Evah, a Newfoundland dog who is a trained and certified psychiatric service dog.
Courtesy photo

For anyone struggling with anxiety, depression or emotional adjustments on the farm or ranch or in small communities in Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas or at locations in two dozen other area states, there’s a confidential group program to help with life’s changes.

Senior Life Solutions (like the program available at Republic County Hospital in Belleville, Kan.) offers intensive outpatient group therapy specifically geared to meet the unique emotional needs of older adults.

The goal is to get this opportunity out into rural communities. People in small communities don’t always have access to these emotional or mental health needs.

With farming and ranching, suddenly being retired, or not being involved in what has been a part of someone’s normal daily activities for years, can impact people. Symptoms of depression and anxiety can often go unnoticed or overlooked.

The program is available to older adults, typically 65 years of age and older but sometimes younger, who are living with symptoms of age-related depression or anxiety, dealing with difficult life transitions, a recent health diagnosis, or the loss of a loved one, or moving from the farm to a home in town, or the transition of moving, for example from in town to an apartment, or someone possibly dealing with the loss of a close family member,” said Mary Ann Kasl, RN, and program director of Republic County Hospital’s Senior Life Solutions, which was started in August 2018.

“Our program contains a mix of older adults of various ages ranging from their 40s to their 60s,” Kasl said. “While we are senior advocates in our community, we are also mental health advocates aiming to help all patients and their family members improve their quality of life. Referrals to the program can be made by anyone, including a patient’s physician, family member, self-referrals, or another healthcare professional.”

Senior Life Solutions individualizes the program based on each patient’s needs. Following a one-on-one assessment with a person, he or she meets up to three times per week in a supportive, encouraging group setting.

“We meet with patients individually to determine whether or not they are eligible for our program and we assess the patient’s needs, ask a few questions about their life and depression, and anxiety scale. Many farmers are often at higher risk for depression and anxiety, or (possibly) even suicide,” Kasl said.

For people who may have recently retired from farm duties, but may still be living at the farm/home place, Kasl said the program can help with this transition/emotionally. It’s also beneficial for folks who may be widowed and living alone and perhaps suddenly feeling lonely at a remote location.

MANAGING STRESS

The personality traits of successful farmers can sometimes contribute to depression, Kasl said.

“Some of those traits are willingness to take risks, great capacity to persevere in the face of adversity and self-reliance,” Kasl said. “When the going gets tough for the farmer, most of them work harder and keep their problems to themselves instead of reaching out for support. It is very important that people in agriculture related jobs manage stress.”

“When the stressors become too much, one should reach out for help from others around them who are in the position to offer them some assistance,” Kasl said. “This includes professionals such as physicians, farm consultants, as well as family. Treatment for depression with medication or professional counseling leads to improvement in most cases. Senior Life Solutions provides services which include: a confidential, comprehensive assessment, group and individual therapy, family therapy, medication education and management. Even though this is a group setting, each person is addressed individually based on their unique needs.”

Some patients say the program-in the beginning might trigger a difficult issue to deal with, which can later be smoothed out. Other people have told Kasl that it wasn’t as hard as they anticipated.

“It stirs up a lot of issues with people,” she said. “After the first day, some say this is where I need to be, others say, well not sure if I’m coming back. The group setting seems to be comforting because it is easier for them when they’re willing to open up and talk.”

People in rural communities in more than two dozen states are already attending the program in Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Alabama, as well as California, Nevada and Idaho.

“From a national community basis, everyday we’re working to defeat the stigma that surrounds mental healthcare, and we do that by being senior advocates and providing education for healthcare providers and families to look for signs and symptoms to help people,” said Chloe Friedman, marketing and communications specialist for Psychiatric Medical Care based in Nashville, Tenn.

Senior Life Solutions was started by Dr. James Greene. With his enduring desire to impact as many people as possible, Greene founded Psychiatric Medical Care in 2003. He was the Chair of Psychiatry at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis. Greene’s son, John Robert “J.R.” Greene, a former executive with Proctor and Gamble, is the chief executive officer of Psychiatric Medical Care.

Participants in the program are well taken care of, Kasl said.

Nobody is forgotten, and even after people have finished the program, it is protocol that the Senior Life Solutions team checks up on them as part of their after-care plan to find out how they’re doing, and what they’ve learned since they’ve been out of the program.

“Once they’re out of the program, we don’t forget about them. We check up every three months, then every six months,” Kasl said.

How does a person get started? “Call our office phone at (785) 527-6041, they don’t even have to give a name, and we’ll call them back,” she said.

Agriculture-related jobs are considered one of the most stressful jobs, related to the uncertainty of weather, roller coaster market prices and product cost. Farmers and ranchers (and other agriculture jobs) also deal with health-related illness, whether it’s from exposure to chemicals or safety issues when working with machinery.

“At Republic County Hospital’s Senior Life Solutions, group therapy members help each other by sharing their personal experiences, as well as their strengths, which can boost self-esteem and confidence,” said Kasl, noting, the first step is seeking help, and staying in the program until a plan has been developed and the person is ready to take on their challenges with the tools that they have learned in the group setting.”

“Senior Life Solutions, just like farming; is a time-consuming process. One must be willing to spend the time needed in the group, to work on their anxiety or depression and meet the goals that have been set by them and the therapist. We at Senior Life Solutions are committed to providing excellent care and being invested in our rural community,” Kasl said. “We are always available to answer questions and to provide educational in-services and information to community members.” For more information, go to http://www.psychmc.com/seniorlifesolutions or call Senior Life Solutions at Republic County Hospital at (785) 527-6041.

For any Mental Health or Medical Emergency: call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room. ❖

— Hadachek is a freelance writer who lives on a farm with her husband in north central Kansas and is also a meteorologist and storm chaser. She can be reached at rotatingstorm2004@yahoo.com.


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