How to Help Your Friends & Loved Ones When Challenges Impact Mental Health?

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It’s no secret that markets are down … for the third consecutive year in a row. And, the weather is less than cooperative. So, what do you do when financial stress or other factors out of our control catches up to a friend, loved one or you?

South Dakota Farmers Union reached out to experts to find out.

Don’t wait to get help. If a friend or loved one has diabetes or high blood pressure and their current diet or medications aren’t working, you wouldn’t tell them to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get over it.” More than likely, you’d suggest they meet with their doctor.

The same thoughtfulness should apply when a neighbor or family member is struggling with anxiety or depression, explained Karl Oehlke, a Physician Assistant with Avera Medical Group University Psychiatry Associates.

“You can’t just grit your teeth and bear it. If you have pneumonia, I will prescribe an antibiotic for you. If you have sleep disturbance, I will give you something for sleep. Farming is never without stress. Right now, farmers are faced with a lot of stressors out of their control, which may be causing bonafide anxiety or depression. A medical professional can provide medication or counseling options to help with that too,” Oehlke said.

Oehlke speaks from experience. He is a third-generation Hartford farmer. In fact, Oehlke is concerned enough over farmers and ranchers’ mental health due to magnified stressors, that he suggested Avera launch the Farmer’s Stress Hotline.

Completely confidential and free, farmers, ranchers, their family and friends can call in 24/7 to visit with trained specialists to better understand where they can go for help. The Farmer’s Stress Hotline number is: 800-691-4336.

Signs you or a loved one needs mental health support

So, how do you know if someone you know, or love is battling anxiety or depression? Andrea Bjornestad, Assistant Professor & SDSU Extension Mental Health Specialist shares some symptoms to watch for among family and friends:

  • Depression, hopelessness
  • Withdrawal from people or activities they ordinarily enjoy
  • Negative thoughts, including frequent talk about disappearing or death
  • Strong feelings of guilt or low self-esteem
  • Decline in hygiene or appearance
  • Alcohol or substance misuse
  • Stockpiling medication
  • Easy access to firearms

And, Bjornestad said if you see the above symptoms or assume someone is struggling, don’t hesitate to get involved. “If you see someone struggling, socially withdrawing, behavioral changes, don’t hesitate to ask them if they are thinking about killing themselves,” Bjornestad said. “Don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions. You asking will not impact a person’s response or thoughts.”

Approaching a friend or family member to discuss their mental health is not easy, Bjornestad offers some advice for this as well. She suggests talking to the person alone and in a private location.

“It is important to describe any changes you’ve observed in the person and to let them know that you care about them,” Bjornestad says. “After describing changes, you may need to ask tough questions directly including, “Have you had any recent thoughts of death and dying?” or, “Are you experiencing thoughts of suicide?’” 

If the answer is yes, the following resources are important:

  • Help the person get immediate mental health assistance.  Offer options such as the Helpline (dial 211) or Farmers Stress Hotline numbers; call a family member to come help and potentially take the person to the hospital; call a local mental health crisis team; call for emergency medical services. Do not leave the person alone.


“Remember, there are so many things right now that farmers and ranchers cannot control. We can’t control the prices. We can’t control the weather. But you can control whether or not you reach out for help to treat anxiety or depression symptoms,” Oehlke said. “By asking for help, farmers and ranchers are not only helping themselves, but they can help those around them. As farmers, we may not realize how many people we touch. Not only the many people we help feed, but our friends and family members are connected to our actions as well.”

For more information, call the Avera Farmer’s Stress Hotline at 800-691-4336 or, or contact Bjornestad at 605-688-5125 or

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