Depression and anxiety are the most common mental health issues in rural America, says Shannon Ferrell, Oklahoma State University Extension associate professor of economics. “We’re fairly good at recognizing depression,” Ferrell said during a recent Ag Law in the Field podcast, hosted by Tiffany Lashmet, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension ag law specialist.
“What do we look for if we think somebody might be having suicidal ideations?” Lashmet asked. “And what can we do to try to help folks in trouble?"
Ferrell said if a neighbor, friend, or other observer notices someone is not at the level of suicidal ideation but is withdrawing or just doesn't seem to be themselves, intervention could help.
“One thing to remember about depression is that it thrives on isolation. In isolation, people get in trouble because they get themselves into a cycle and start to believe things about themselves that might not be true.”
The key, he said, is addressing the isolation. “If someone is dealing with depression, engage with them. Tell them that you’ve noticed that they seem a little bit down. Ask if they want to talk about it. Let them know that you’re there for them.
“It might take a little bit of persistence. You might have to get on the edge of being annoying, but people often don't want to admit when they're not well.”
Shannon recommends letting the person know that you are genuinely interested and want to know if they’re okay and how you can help.”
He said that initial talk, letting that person know that somebody cares and that it’s okay for them to safely express that they are not okay, is important.
Interventions make a difference, Ferrell said. “Licensed professional counselors say, almost universally, that after the first visit they have with patients every one of them comes back the next week and says, ‘I felt so much better after that first visit.’ They knew that there was someone they could talk to.”
He said reassurance is helpful for folks suffering anxiety.
“If someone is showing some signs of anxiety, help them get out of the moment for a second and ground themselves. If they are having an anxiety attack, reassure them that they are okay. If the person is comfortable with physical touch, a touch on the shoulder might help.
“Help them slow down their breathing, take deep breaths through the nose, slow breaths out through the mouth.”
He said reorienting them helps them connect with their environment. “Ask them to tell you one thing that they see, one thing that they feel, and one thing that they smell. That helps them get their senses dialed back in.”
Lashmet and Ferrell said being aware of the symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues is especially important in rural communities where access to professional mental health care may be limited.
Awareness and willingness to intervene are important steps in preventing tragedy, they say.
If you or someone you love is feeling hopeless or suicidal, dial 988, the new three-digit dialing code, to be routed to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. When people call, text or chat 988, they will be connected to trained counselors.
The next and final article in this series: "Resources available for rural mental health assistance."