PEORIA — When the rain kept coming this spring, OSF HealthCare officials thought a few farmers might benefit from using the free SilverCloud app, a digital form of mental health counseling.
They were right.
“We’ve had quite a number of farmers use the service since the recent marketing push across our social media platforms and through the news media,” said Luke Raymond, manager of Behavioral Health services for OSF HealthCare.
SilverCloud is an anonymous interactive platform designed to help people manage depression, anxiety and stress. It can be accessed on a smartphone or computer at osf.silvercloudhealth.com/signup. Users learn techniques for dealing with stress, including mood and lifestyle charting, mindfulness exercises, and interactive journaling.
The marketing department at OSF HealthCare, which often pushes the app during the stressful Christmas season, decided this spring to target the agricultural community, said Raymond.
“We promote SilverCloud at times that make sense,” he said. “One of our marketing people knew some people involved in farming. Then we learned that the Illinois Farm Bureau was focusing their efforts on mental health awareness and it all just kind of fell into place.”
Helping with the marketing push was Matt Goedeke, a farmer and manager for Nutrien Ag Solutions in Yates City and Fairview. Goedeke is not an official spokesman for the app — he decided to help get the word out because he saw great value in the program after his wife, who works at OSF, asked him to take a look at it.
“What’s nice about the app is you can do it on your own,” he said. “It asks you questions and gives you feedback based on how you answer those questions, and then there’s little programs you can go through. It kind of helps you understand what kind of person you are and learn how to read yourself a little bit, and maybe see some of your warning signs. It’s not just for someone who thinks they have a problem — I would encourage someone to get on it just to better educate themselves on their general mental health.”
Goedeke has done several interviews with the news media, including one on RFD Radio, which provides news pertinent to the agricultural community. Though Goedeke says he’s pretty good at shrugging off stress, he was worried about his neighbors, friends and employees this spring. Farmers were already stressed by unfavorable market conditions when they got slammed with drenching rains just in time for spring planting.
“As you talk to the older generations, the guys who have been doing this 40, 50 years, they’ve never seen anything like this,” said Goedeke. “It’s unprecedented.”
Farmers tend to be a self-sufficient bunch who take a can-do attitude to adversity. They often don’t talk about things that are bothering them, said Goedeke.
“The mentality of most farmers is to keep it to themselves,” he said. “They are supposed to be these tough individuals, and they do feel like there is some shame in talking about it. And that’s why this app is important — nobody has to know about it.”
The free, confidential service can be accessed anywhere, at any time.
“It’s kind of a soft entry into seeking services,” said Raymond. “They don’t have to talk to their doctor or make a phone call. It reduces barriers and gets them connected without having to cross over those hard barriers to care.”
The program is nearly identical to what is delivered during traditional counseling, said Raymond. And though users are doing the work by themselves, a counselor will intervene if necessary.
“We don’t just give this to people without any connection to a live person. It has supporters who work in the background and intervene if any red flags emerge,” said Raymond. “They will give the user a call or contact them through the module and connect them to a live person if necessarily.”
Though Goedeke doesn’t know anyone in his community who has committed suicide in recent years, it is a growing problem in farming communities around the country.
“We’ve identified the reasons for that,” said Raymond. “There’s a lack of health services in rural communities, and there is less social connectivity. They can’t have a beer with a neighbor after work cause that neighbor might live five miles down the road.”
On a good day, farming is a stressful profession. As the markets and weather continue to make the job more difficult, today’s farmers are burdened by an added pressure — the threat of losing the family farm, said Raymond.
“Grandfather started the farm, my father ran it, and here I am about to lose it. That’s our whole family history. That’s a whole lot of pressure. This is a very scary time for the folks who are doing that kind of work.”
Leslie Renken can be reached at 686-3250 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter.com/LeslieRenken, and subscribe to her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.