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Congressional talks about rural mental health

March 19, 2024 - Prairie du Sac, WI - Representatives from Farmer Angel Network (FAN), Sauk Prairie Healthcare (SPH), Senator Tammy Baldwin's office and Congressman Mark Pocan's office met to discuss efforts around mental health in rural communities.

Justin Williams, Southcentral Regional Representative for Senator Baldwin, reached out to learn more following the recent news clip on local efforts offering Mental Health First Aid training specifically focused toward agricultural workers. Morgan Salli, Field Representative for Congressman Pocan, also joined in the visit at Sauk Prairie Healthcare.

Christy Wehler, representing Farmer Angel Network, shared the stressors and challenges facing farmers currently that are impacting mental health. These include financial stressors due to the commodities markets, farm transitions, substance use and abuse and family relationships. Wehler also explained difficulties accessing behavioral health care. She shared how FAN partners with others in the community to raise awareness of the issues and resources available for farmers.

Ken Carlson, SPH Vice President Business Planning & Development, explained the community needs assessment and improvement plans that shows mental health as a top priority for Sauk County including access to services, training and education, and reducing stigma.

Todd Wuerger, SPH Foundation's executive director, shared how they have partnered with FAN to offer free Mental Health First Aid trainings in local communities for several years. This training helps community members understand, identify and help those around them that may be in a mental health crisis. Participants learn practical approaches for how to talk to someone and get them connected to the appropriate resources.

Wuerger told the story of one participant of the training. Soon after going through the class, she noticed signs that the cab driver she often rode with was experiencing changes in his mental health. She asked him questions using the techniques from the class. He admitted he had been experiencing suicidal thoughts. She was able to get him to a local care provider. The cab driver said he would not have sought out help had she not asked him about his mental health.

Ann Moran, SPH's behavioral health director, shared the services available currently and plans to expand to meet the needs of the community.

The group discussed efforts that are helping address current challenges in mental health services and opportunities to improve services for our rural community. Farmer Angel Network has planned a farm side chat with Senator Baldwin's office to further explain the challenges being faced by our local farmers and agricultural workers.

Left to Right: Todd Wuerger, Justin Williams, Morgan Salli, Ann Moran, Christy Wehler. Missing from photo: Kim Beld, Ken Carlson, both with SPH

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