“Suicide doesn’t just impact that one person; it impacts the whole family.”
Brenda Statz, Sauk County Farm Bureau member
“That was the day Leon [her husband] attempted suicide for the third time and ended up taking his life.”
Brenda explained that Leon was struggling to adjust to their new life after selling the dairy herd. The couple transitioned from milking cows to raising beef cattle and crops.
“He always said he felt like he was a failure.”
Leon had two suicide attempts before he died. Brenda said after each attempt he was admitted to the hospital for a short time. While in the hospital, Leon’s suicidal thoughts would become more controlled. Brenda’s concern though was how she and her sons were supposed to support Leon when he returned home.
“I felt like every time I asked for information or resources so that we could better support him at home, there was nothing useful provided to us.”
These challenges have become a point of advocacy to Brenda as she continually talks about the need to support the family and provide resources to help them navigate the stressful and confusing time.
“I hope the health care system will make changes to support the family so they can help their loved one heal.”
Leon’s battle with depression was lengthy and impacted every member of the family including Brenda and their children – two sons and a daughter.
“Our daughter tried so hard to help him see that he was loved,” Brenda recalled. “His brain just wouldn’t let him feel good anymore. While holding his grandson, he once said, ‘I wish I could feel but I can’t feel anything anymore.’ It broke our hearts. He tried so hard, but the illness was bigger than he could handle.”
Not long after Leon’s death, Brenda received a request to speak at a local event about mental health and the impact of suicide on her family.
Brenda shared that it was not an easy decision to agree to attend the event and it took some coaxing. She feared how difficult it would be to relive such a traumatic event in such a public setting.
“I decided I needed to do it because maybe I could save someone else’s life or save someone from the pain I was experiencing. We need to speak out so those who struggle know it is OK to seek help.”
Ever since that day, Brenda has been an outspoken mental health advocate.
She has shared Leon’s story at countless events and touched the lives of hundreds, if not thousands of people. She is passionate about changing the way families of those who attempt suicide are supported.
“Sure, the person who attempts suicide needs support, but the family needs resources and information that they can use at home.”
For any farmer who is struggling because of a transition, financial strain or for any other reason, Brenda has some powerful advice.
“Find your joy and live life. Your family needs you. Your friends need you. Even if you don’t feel it right now, you are loved by those around you.”
If you or someone you know are experiencing severe depression or thoughts of suicide, call the 24/7 Wisconsin Farm Center Farmer Wellness Hotline at 888.901.2558 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800.273.8255.
Story and photos by Sarah Hetke. Originally ran in the December | January 2020-2021 Rural Route.
Rural Resilience Resources
The resources and information below are available to help all Wisconsin farmers and agriculturists. Whether you or someone you know is struggling with chronic stress, depression or thoughts of suicide keep these resources in a place you can easily reference. Never underestimate the power of a simple check in to ask someone how they are doing.
Farmer Angel Network
The Farmer Angel Network was created after Leon lost his battle with depression. The Loganville community and Leon’s loved ones and supporters banded together to create a group focused on helping farmers and farm families battling chronic stress, depression and thoughts or suicide. Brenda has been an active member of the group sharing Leon’s story and helping other farmers realize it is OK to talk about their struggles. Dorothy Harms and Randy Roecker, also Loganville farmers and Sauk County Farm Bureau members, also have been instrumental in coordinating programs, events and resources for the Farmer Angel Network.
The group has a series of upcoming virtual presentations tailored for farm families including sessions titled, “I am the farm,” “Financial capabilities and Farm Center resources,” Breaking the stress cycle” and “Health and wellness.” To learn more about the group or the upcoming programs search for “Farmer Angel Network” on Facebook. Note: event registrations will be posted soon.
Wisconsin Farm Center
The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection’s Wisconsin Farm Center offers free resources and services to all farmers within the state. These services range from free mental health counseling vouchers and tele-health sessions to beginning farmer resources, farm finance review, job hunting assistance, legal information and much more.
The Farm Center recently started a 24/7 Farmer Wellness Hotline that can be reached at 888.901.2558. The hotline is available for farmers experiencing depression or thoughts of suicide or those who just need a listening ear and don’t know where else to turn. Wisconsin farm families also can request free in-person mental health counseling vouchers or free tele-health or web-based counseling from a licensed mental health professional. All mental health professionals have been screened by Wisconsin Farm Center staff to ensure they have at least a basic understanding of agriculture and the unique stress associated with owning a farm.
Farm Center staff also launched a podcast called ‘Rural Realities’ that features farm and rural mental health experts speaking on a variety of topics ranging from how farm kids experience stress to discussing farm transition.
You can learn more about all the Wisconsin Farm Center services and resources by visiting bit.ly/WIFarmCenter.
Warning Signs of Stress in Farmers
Warning signs people show when under stress vary by the individual. Consider their demeanor, words and behavior in the context of what is normal for them. Signs commonly observed in farmers under stress include:
- Changes in emotions – show little enthusiasm or energy for the future, anxiety, loss of spirit, depression, loss of humor.
- Changes in attitudes and cognitive skills – become more frequently critical or agitated over small things, lack concentration, have trouble making decisions.
- Changes in behavior – become quieter than usual, have trouble sleeping, do not join friends for coffee; miss meetings with farm staff, suppliers or the banker.
- Changes on the farm or ranch – reduce care given to farm animals, machinery or fields, or themselves, increase in accidents.
Other potential warning signs might include any change in routine behavior or appearance, injury or prolonged illness or increased drinking or drug use. Farmers may also express negative thoughts about themselves (“I’m a failure,” “It’s impossible to make it in this business climate”) and even disclose they are considering including suicide.