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Training to prevent suicides in rural Minnesota draws large response

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Harvesting
A southern Minnesota farmer transfers soybeans to a grain cart in 2012.
Mark Steil | MPR News 2012

Minnesota health and agriculture officials say they've received an overwhelming response to training sessions aimed at preventing suicides among farmers and others who work in agriculture.

Economic hardship and poor weather have caused added stress for farmers in the region. The "safeTALK" training sessions teach people how to recognize that someone may be in a mental health crisis, and how to get them help. 

The sessions started in October, with two more scheduled this week in Faribault and Austin.

"It's a pretty intense training," said Meg Moynihan, a senior adviser with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. "It's a four-hour, evidence-based training that talks about … the signs that somebody may be considering suicide and then skills to engage with that person and help keep them safe immediately, and get them to professional help that can help provide help and support over the long term. ...

"We're helping people realize that they have the capacity and the strength to do this and the bravery to do this, for themselves and for other people."

Moynihan said she's heard from people who said the training had an immediate impact.

"I had a call from a woman who was in our first training up in Thief River Falls, after the training," Moynihan said. "She's an educator. ... She's also an EMT. She said, 'I used my Safetalk training the other day with a patient we responded to. I knew something was wrong. And I was able to talk to him directly about suicide and get him the help he needed.' And that just sent chills up and down my arms, because within a week she was putting these skills into practice."

There initially were six trainings scheduled; then officials added three more next month to meet demand. But Moynihan said there's still a wait list of more than 140 people. 

She's still encouraging people to sign up, so they can be contacted if more training sessions are added.

Moynihan said the trainings are drawing a wide range of participants.

"It's really diverse," she said. "It's federal, state and county agency people. We have veterinarians coming, clergy. Some farmers are coming. Local agricultural businesspeople are coming. Lenders are coming. Educators like extension educators and educators who work at community colleges. So it's really this cross-section of rural people who are involved with agriculture and with farmers."

Find more information on upcoming safeTALK training sessions here.

Find more resources for coping with farm and rural stress here.