Abstract: WITHDRAWN The Psychological Experiences of Agriculture Students in a Mental Health Peer Advocacy Program (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

WITHDRAWN The Psychological Experiences of Agriculture Students in a Mental Health Peer Advocacy Program

Friday, January 14, 2022
Liberty Ballroom O, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Erica Nason, PhD, Assistant Professor, Texas State University, San Marcos, TX
Abby Blankenship, PhD, Psychologist, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio
Olivia Hayes, MSW, Social Worker, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio
Sebastian Bliss, PhD, Psychologist, VA Boston Health Care System
Hyunjoon Choi, BS, Behavioral Health Specialist, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio
Geony Yoo, BS, Brigade Behavioral Health NCOIC, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio
Background and Purpose: Recent research has identified agricultural workers to be an occupational group that is particularly vulnerable to suicide, poor mental health outcomes, and limited social support (Kirsch, 2014; LiKam Wa McIntosh, Spies, Stone, Lokey, Trudeau, & Bartholow, 2016). Among farmers, attitudinal factors, including negative stigma associated with mental health treatment and a cultural emphasis on self-reliance, also have been shown to decrease treatment seeking behaviors (Gregoire, 2002, Hull, Fennell, Vallury, Jones, & Dollman, 2017). The stressors that contribute to poor mental health outcomes in agricultural communities are further exacerbated by the lack of mental health resources available in many rural communities. Guidelines from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) highlight empirically supported strategies that may be helpful for addressing suicide among farmers including increasing social support, promoting help-seeking behaviors, providing mental health training for colleagues and supervisors, and reducing mental health stigma (LiKam Wa McIntosh et al., 2016). The current project seeks to examine the mental health experiences of agriculture students participating in a peer-to-peer program to train mental health advocates.

Methods: The current project includes baseline data from 49 undergraduate students majoring in agriculture. All participants participated in a six-month long training program aimed at increasing awareness of mental health, decreasing stigma, and building skills for engaging in conversations about mental health. Participants are assigned to cohorts who progress through the program together and the program includes an intensive full-day training, webinars on a variety of mental health topics, and ongoing learning community meetings where mental health topics are discussed. As part of their baseline evaluation, participants completed a battery of questionnaires including measures of depression, anxiety, substance use, and mental health stigma.

Results: Descriptive analyses were used to evaluate participants scores on the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT), the General Anxiety Disorder-7 (GAD-7), the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9), and the Endorsed and Anticipated Stigma Inventory (EASI). Results indicated that participants reported moderate levels of anxiety (M = 13.23), moderate depression (M = 11.58), and lower risk alcohol use (M = 3.44).

Conclusions and Implications: Although the scores indicated low to moderate levels of mental health symptoms among agriculture students, the ranges and standard deviations reflected a broad range of experiences across individuals. Efforts to improve the mental health of rural and farming communities can be supported by individuals in a variety of roles, such as peer support mentors, local trainers, or community advocates. USDA has begun to provide trainings on farmer mental health through extension offices that are designed to provide Farm Service Agency Workers with tools to improve mental health outcomes in agricultural communities. These efforts could be bolstered by collaborative efforts between mental health professionals and agricultural organizations. Furthermore, providing students with mental health education and skills prior to entering the profession may help to build resilience and bolster mental health in individuals and communities.