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Minnesota farmers to receive additional mental health counselor

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In an effort to address the mental health of Minnesota farmers, the Legislature approved funding that will provide them with a second counselor to help deal with stress and other concerns.

Monica McConkey, who has more than 20 years of experience in behavioral health as a counselor, will begin working with northern Minnesota farmers on Oct. 1. Teaching farmers different methods to cope with stress caused by financial losses or bad weather will be a chief component of her work, she said.

"Learning how to maybe change your thinking so you're able to deal with that stress — it's a lot of coping mechanisms [and] problem-solving,” McConkey said. “Those kinds of things really just support to get through this time."

Northern Minnesota residents asked lawmakers in January to increase funding for mental health resources that would provide farmers with the help they require. Existing statewide efforts to improve farmers’ mental health include a network of farm advocates by the Department of Agriculture and a rural stress task force announced by the University of Minnesota in April.

McConkey said growing up on a farm makes her well suited for understanding the stresses and other mental health effects of farming. While farmers’ stress levels are high as of late, they are also more likely to ask for help, she said.

"I do think that the stigma is starting to shrink,” McConkey said “Obviously it's still out there alive and well, but I think the more we talk about this [and] the more we equate it with our physical health, the better it's going to be."