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Farmer Angel Network Featured in The New York Times: Mental Health Crisis in Rural Areas

Brenda Statz and Christy Wehler, Farmer Angel Network board members, were recently interviewed by Elizabeth Williamson, feature writer for the Washington bureau of The New York Times. Ms. Williamson visited each of their farms in early March on a snowy wintery day.

Ms. Williamson wrote a heart wrenching article explaining the painful experience Brenda had from her farmer husband Leon’s death by suicide. Brenda opens her heart and shares this painful story so others become more aware and break the stigma around mental health. The article, “A Death in Dairyland Spurs a Fight Against a Silent Killer,” was published online April 19, 2023 and in the NYT print edition on April 24, 2023.

Alyssa Schukar, a Chicago-based documentary photographer and frequent contributor to the New York Times, also visited the Statz Farm and Loganville, WI area for the article photos.

We at Farmer Angel Network thank both Ms. Williamson and Ms. Schukar for the beautiful article and photos explaining the truth and reality behind mental health struggles faced in agriculture and rural areas. Brenda shares some details from Leon’s suicide note that have not been shared before. We also thank Brenda for being vulnerable and willing to speak to this so others can learn what mental illness feels like and does to those living with it. By walking through this pain together, we can work together to bring awareness and prevent even one more suicide in our rural community.

Farmer Angel Network is humbled by the outpouring of support as a result of the article. Not only is it bringing light to the issues faced but also inspiring people to share their own story. Grief needs a witness, so it is by facing the pain of grief with others that we begin to heal. The article also inspired individuals across the nation to give monetary or in kind donations to FAN. The FAN Board will put all contributions toward it’s mission of suicide awareness and prevention among rural communities, farmers, farm workers and their families.

Readers were touched by the story. One reader commented on the article, “The best description of depression I have heard (and I have had treated depression for more than 30 years.” Another commented, “As a therapist and also as a survivor of depression, I urge wide distribution of this wonderful article. Our society leans more and more toward self-isolation especially when one is worried or upset, and that feeds depression. We must acknowledge our vulnerability to bad choices when upset and alone, and we must create and re-create group support systems, just as the Statz family’s community is doing. Thank you Mrs. Statz for using your strength to address this urgent social problem, and thank you to the writers and the NYTimes for publicizing it. I am sharing it widely and hope others will do as well.”

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