Over the past two months, the Center for Rural Behavioral Health, an academic research center aimed at improving access to mental health care for rural and outstate Minnesota has received donations of $300,000 each from the Minnesota Pork Board and Compeer Financial.
Thad Shunkwiler, director of the center, said the two companies that donated to the CRBH are leaders in the agricultural industry and mental health, and have beliefs that are aligned. He also said agriculture as an industry has been “some of the hardest hit as it pertains to mental health and farmer suicide; it’s never been higher.”
“These organizations realize their stakeholders need services and need those supports. And so, thus, they said, ‘We’re going to help solve this problem along with you. We can’t do the research, but the university can and will help support that,’” said Shunkwiler.
When people think of mental health and agriculture, it isn’t something they associate together. Vice President of Compeer Financial, Bob Madsen, argues that it is talked about more than people think.
“A lot of times, farmers are their sole proprietors. They are the only owners of their business, so they feel the stress, and they feel like they’re on an island, trying to make decisions for themselves and their family and not feeling like they have a place to go and somebody to share that with,” said Madsen.
Compeer Financial is farmer-owned, meaning the people who borrow money from them are actual owners. All of their businesses and owners are in rural America.
“Studies have shown that rural America has a severe lack of mental health resources. So when Minnesota State approached us about investing in this venture to be able to try to support rural communities and farmers more, it really matched up with our core values,” said Madsen.
Director of Communications of MN Pork, Bailey Ruen, said that mental health and farming are important topics as well. This was a reason why they decided to donate to the CRBH as their values aligned, and they wanted to help support their organization.
“Farming in general, people are like, yeah, ‘we’re tough,’ which is so true. Farmers do the hardest job, which is to feed the world,” said Ruen. “They’re so used to working hard and doing what they need to do. They’re so humble and hardworking that they don’t want to take time for themselves and do that.”
The conversation of mental health in general has changed in the last 20 years. In the past, mental health was a taboo thing to talk about and was stigmatized.
“Over the last two decades, we’ve had a very deliberate and intentional effort to destigmatize mental health to make it OK to not be OK,” said Shunkwiler. “The conversations have changed tremendously in the last three years in a post-COVID world. We’ve seen the conversation changed tremendously about how important it is to take care of our mental health.”
The donations made to the center will be used for research that will help them grow the behavioral health workforce and better understand the workforce challenges and needs, not just in the Mankato region but across Minnesota.
Header photo: From right to left: Daryl Timmerman, Jill Resler, Thad Shunkwiler, Bob Madsen, Bukata Hayes. (Courtesy Thad Shunkwiler)
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