Imagine yourself in a blizzard so thick and cold and blinding that you could not see your hands right in front of you. Such blizzards were common 150 years ago on the upper great plains. Without much for houses and trees, the wind blew the snow with such force that the little ice crystals were more like little knives making it hard to keep one’s eyes open even if there was something to see. Thus, to get safely from the house to the barn, farmers often hung a rope between the two, to not get lost. It was literally a lifeline. Otherwise, one wrong turn and perhaps nothing would stop you from wandering across the frozen prairie.
As a sixth generation South Dakotan, I cannot imagine some of the hardships my forefathers had to endure to survive. How did they feed themselves when the rains did not come, or when the fires did? How did they heat the house when the wood or coal had run out? How did they fight the boredom of months in a single room, not to mention the isolation?
There are many who still face those questions. Farming still carries great risks with drought, floods, or financial stress. There is the chance of failure, of losing the family farm, of choosing the wrong crops or the wrong time to plant in unpredictable markets with trade wars, changing weather patterns, and other factors. One little mistake may ruin a million-dollar piece of equipment or result in a lifetime disabling accident.
Given these pressures, it may not come as any surprise that farming has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation, which has been rising over the last decade. Of course, you do not have to be a farmer to face financial, physical, or mental pressures that may contribute to feelings of helplessness, failure, loss of hope, and depression. You may be easily irritated and feel like sleeping all day, lack energy, and no longer enjoy what you once did.
If you or someone you know needs help, please reach out. Hotlines available for those in crisis or for those looking to help someone else are the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and the Avera Farm and Rural Stress Hotline at 1-800-691-4336.
Just as that rope was a lifeline from the barn back to the farmhouse years ago, a simple phone call can be a lifeline for those in need of help today. No matter your occupation or stage of life, please reach out if you need help. Even if it feels like you are in a blinding blizzard with nowhere to go, reach out and take hold of that rope, that lifeline, and make that phone call.
Andrew Ellsworth, M.D. is part of The Prairie Doc® team of physicians and currently practices family medicine in Brookings, South Dakota. Follow The Prairie Doc® at www.prairiedoc.org and on Facebook featuring On Call with the Prairie Doc® a medical Q&A show celebrating its twentieth season of truthful, tested, and timely medical information, broadcast on SDPB and streaming live on Facebook most Thursdays at 7 p.m. central.