Lutheran Social Services uses technology to address farm stress

Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota is now offering a Farm Stress Program for farmers, ranchers and others in rural communities.

Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota. (Emily Beal / Agweek)

FARGO, N.D. — With the many wavering and uncertain factors that play a part in being a farmer or rancher, producers can face a mounted amount of stress. To help producers, ranchers, farmers and rural people to combat this stress, Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota now offers a Farm Stress program.

“We became aware of the statistic that there had been a 57% increase in the suicide rate in North Dakota. The highest in the nation. We saw that service need, and when you see a need you can't unsee it. Our work was developed to try to target the farm and ranch service areas,” said Becky Kopp Dunham, therapist with Abound Counseling.

The Farm Stress program utilizes telemedicine to meet with their patients. While they did see some patients in office before COVID-19, the program has had success with telemedicine, even before the pandemic.

"We have had a combination of how we met with people prior to COVID. But the telemedicine was a natural fit for farmers or ranchers or producers that don't have the ability to leave the farm and be gone for the afternoon or get cleaned up and go into town. Telemedicine was just a really natural fit,” Kopp Dunham said.

Farmers and ranchers can partake in telemedicine at any time, anywhere, as long as they have a strong connection and a portable technology device.


“One thing that is nice about telemedicine is that we can do early appointments. The farmers and ranchers I see like to get up early and going so we do those early appointments so they can get on with their day,” Kopp Dunham.

In an effort to combat the stigma that surrounds mental health, LSSND has come up with different methods of outreach to communities. They are doing community outreach presentations, partnering up with community partners, webinars and even podcasts.

"We are doing things to reach people in different ways than just people coming in for therapy. We realized there's other ways to reach people. It’s great because people seem eager for this information” Kopp Dunham said.

The Farm Stress program is not just open to the farmers and ranchers themselves, but also farm spouses and their families — anyone who has been involved in the ripple effect of the family’s farming stress.

These stressors can be a multitude of things, and farmers and their families have experienced a rough couple of years, only amplifying those stressors.

“It has been a perfect storm of events. Difficult weather, tariffs, harvest difficulties, flooding, snow, market prices — it's been a combination of many things, and it's the weight of all those things on a person. You can handle the rain, but then you have all the other things that pile on top. It’s been a pileup of all those things,'' Kopp Dunham said.

In an effort to lower the financial stress, the Farm Stress program offers funding to help offset the cost of being a part of the program.

“This program is a special interest of mine, being that my husband and I farm ourselves. It's an area that touches my heart and that I feel called to work in and am very grateful for that opportunity,” Kopp Dunham said.


She meets with her clients on a regular basis, each person staying in the program for as long as they need. While some stay in the program longer than others, there is no set timeline. Kopp Dunham hopes the work they are doing in the program will help those in rural communities and ultimately lower North Dakota’s suicide rate.

“When I talk about that 57% suicide rate to people, it feels a bit removed from them. I encourage people to think about it differently, because when we get that new statistic hopefully it's down, because if it's not, that's our children, that's our grandchildren, in that 57%. So if we can't do it for ourselves, let's do it for our children and grandchildren who are going to be a part of that new statistics,” Kopp Dunham said.

If you are someone you know is interested in LSSND’s Farm Stress Program please visit .

Emily grew up on a small grains and goat farm in southern Ohio. After graduating from The Ohio State University, she moved to Fargo, North Dakota to pursue a career in ag journalism with Agweek. She enjoys reporting on livestock and local agricultural businesses.
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