Adrienne DeSutter grew up in small town, rural Illinois but admits she was disconnected from agriculture until 10 years ago when she met her now husband, Farmer Drew (a 4th generation grain farmer).
“As they say, when you marry the farmer, you marry the farm.”
She had earned a Bachelor’s degree in Child and Family Studies, a Master’s degree in Counseling, and worked for several years as a School Counselor. When she started raising children, she decided to leave the education field to better support her family’s livelihood on the farm.
But soon, she found a way to use her education and experience for the good of her own farm family and many other farm families. That’s why she’s our first Champion!
“After joining an agriculture family, I realized life was going to be very different for me…in wonderful ways, but also in challenging ways. One night, my husband and I had a discussion about our ‘farm stress’ and decided we could continue living a life consumed with stress, or we could work on our mental health and find ways to make life better. We opted for the latter, made major changes in our own home, and decided we’d share some of our journey to encourage others to do the same. It’s not easy to prioritize yourself when there’s so much to do on the farm, but when you improve the farmer, you improve the farm’s greatest asset”
A few years ago, Adrienne wasn’t sure that the first article she and her husband wrote on mental health would be published because the topic was still taboo. It was published and the reaction was overwhelmingly positive!
“People from all over the state contacted us; people who had loved ones with mental health conditions, people who could relate to farm stress, people who had lost loved ones to suicide, and people who wanted to help. That was a big sign to me that agriculture was ready for this conversation to come to light, and we’ve been talking ever since! Now I’ve worked with people and organizations across the country, and you can just feel the synergy grow after every event.”
We asked Adrienne for some additional insights. Her answers are below.
What is something you want everyone in agriculture to know about mental health?
“The term ‘mental health’ is often misunderstood, and we typically don’t think it applies to us until we’re in the midst of heavy stress or crisis. But we all have mental health, and there are ways to live a happier, healthier life no matter what state your mental health is in. Whether it’s as simple as learning better communication skills to avoid family arguments or as intricate as developing a treatment plan for depression, we can all take an active and intentional role in becoming healthier people. And when you perform at your best, so does your farm and your family."
What has helped you to have conversations with other people in agriculture about mental health?
“I think transparency is key when it comes to talking with others about mental health. When we get vulnerable and share our truths, we open the door for others to feel a little less awkward about their own truths. We fuel connection- not necessarily by comparing our stories or pretending to know exactly what someone else is going through- but by recognizing that what we have in common is that we are imperfect. And in doing so, we feel a little more ‘ok’ with being imperfect. There’s something very healing about knowing you’re not struggling alone.”
What would you recommend to someone who is struggling with mental health?
“It is NEVER too late to turn things around. No matter how hopeless things may seem, there is someone or something out there that can help you become who you want to be. Over the past few years, I’ve heard dozens of stories from REAL farmers about how heavy it felt to live with constant stress, and how that load felt a lot lighter once they finally reached out.
Farmers are strong, but strength means more than lifting heavy objects. It means facing pressure and doing hard things. And sometimes the hardest things are knowing when to take a break, making difficult decisions, or asking for help.”
How can family members talk with someone they are concerned about?
“If there’s someone you’re concerned about, it’s easy to worry about saying the ‘right thing.’ But it’s so important to focus less on what to SAY, and more on how to LISTEN. It’s not easy, but having a conversation with someone and showing them that you hear their struggle can relieve some pressure by helping them feel validated and understood. Get a little uncomfortable, share your concern with genuine interest, and listen with empathy. You don’t even have to agree with their perspective, but you can acknowledge that they have a right to their feelings, and you will be there to support them no matter what."
Can you highlight one resource you have found extremely helpful?
“I really like what American Farm Bureau is doing with the Farm State of Mind campaign. Their website (farmstateofmind.org) includes everything from a national directory of ag mental health resources, to warning signs and conversation starters, to important research and statistics coming directly from our farm families. They even offer a Rural Resilience training for anyone- from individuals to organizations- to learn more about how to foster good mental health in yourself and others.
More than anything, we need to think of ourselves as the first line of defense when it comes to helping each other. Whether it’s checking in with a friend who’s having a tough day, helping someone find a therapist, or even stepping out of our comfort zone to talk about a time we had to reach out for help, we can all find ways to be supportive and encourage others.”
What advice do you have for others who want to make a difference?
“When I was trying to figure out what my role would be in the ag mental health arena, someone told me ‘it’s ok to stay in your lane.’ I had really big ideas about what types of conversations needed to be had, and what efforts would make a real difference for farm families. What I learned is that we all have a part to play- no matter how big or small- when it comes to encouraging positive mental health. You don’t have to be a therapist, or memorize every statistic, or create some enormous initiative; you just have to care about the wellbeing of others, and focus on what you’re passionate about. You can do anything, but you can’t do everything!"