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Stop the stigma and step in

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KNOW THE SIGNS: To give support to those during difficult times, North Dakota State University Extension specialists share the warning signs to watch for in friends and family members.
As harvest charges on, take care of yourself and your neighbors.

With the stress of harvest season here, North Dakota State University Extension specialists share ways to respond to people in emotional or mental distress. Knowing what to watch for in friends, family and community members can start a course of action to help individuals.

Some of the signs of distress can be shown as:

  • nervous, agitated or irritable behavior
  • changes in routine behavior
  • undue aggressive behaviors
  • avoidance or withdrawal
  • frequent substance abuse
  • gambling

After recognizing one or more of these signs of distress, the specialist say to express your concerns to the person. For example, inquire about stressful circumstances brought up by the individual, share that you’ve noticed their absence for their usual morning coffee, or simply say you’re concerned for their health and want to help.

If the person has had prolonged periods of distress, mentions self-harm or suicide, exhibits confusion or isolation, makes ending statements such as “I can’t go on anymore,” or makes statements about hurting or killing others, NDSU Extension says you need to consider if they pose an imminent threat to themselves or others right away. Talk with the individual if you can, asking more about behaviors exhibited in these warning signs.

Assess situation

Sometimes deciphering what behaviors should be immediately concerning versus someone experiencing a rough week can be difficult. Behaviors can be lumped into three categories:

1. Imminent danger is clearly present. Such a situation would require immediate professional intervention. Examples include:

  • You find a person unconscious or unresponsive.
  • Someone tells you they ingested pills over the recommended dosage.
  • Person threatens danger to themselves or others.
  • Person attempts to cause physical harm to themselves or others.
  • You have a gut feeling behavior is serious and help is needed.

These situations are serious and should immediately lead to calling 911. If you feel safe, stay with the person until help arrives and talk to them to gather any information you can. If the person becomes violent or has a gun, immediately leave and call 911.

2. Threat of imminent danger is unclear. Situations that could be unclear about the presence of imminent danger includes:

  • Person with a history of concerning behavior (drinking, drug use, self-harm, etc.) and states a desire to engage in the behavior again.
  • Person is found intoxicated or appears to be under the influence of substances.
  • Someone makes suggestive statements about suicidal or homicidal thoughts.
  • Person is emotionally agitated or distraught, and unresponsive to calming attempts.
  • Person who experiences stress (family death, divorce, job loss, etc.) and is inconsolable or has an unusual response.
  • Person has an uncontrollable emotional reaction to a minor setback, or has no reaction over a major loss.

In these circumstances, NDSU Extension says to stay with the person, and call or text a local or national suicide prevention lines (988 for call; 800-273-8255 for call or text). If the person is not a family member, ask the person for permission to contact their family. If the person leaves and you’re concerned for their safety, call 911.

3. No danger is present. Sometimes situations in life can lead to difficult times without the presence of imminent danger. Seeing a person crying or angry after getting off of the phone, saying things are difficult financially or otherwise is normal as long as there are no other warning signs.

Seeing a co-worker or friend deal with a major family illness can be struggling to emotionally manage, but again as long as there are no accompanying warning signs this can be normal.

For these instances, reach out and as much as you are comfortable with to listen and provide support. Make plans to check in with them again soon, and discuss options for counseling services or other help for the person. If other warning signs begin to emerge, remember how to determine the presence of imminent danger.

Break the stigma

While there may be stigma in the agriculture industry when it comes to asking for mental health support or offering that support to another, NDSU Extension says that your health is important. Life stresses can be overwhelming, and that doesn’t make anyone weak, just human.

Feeling stress, or being exhausted or blue doesn’t make anyone a failure, the specialists say. These feelings can be similar to a check engine light on your vehicle. They may mean that a break is needed to focus on your most important asset in farming and ranching — your health.

For more ways to help yourself and community members, check out NDSU Extension’s publication on recognizing warning signs of distress. 

Resources offer help

Check out these resources offering help on depression, anxiety, suicide risk or substance abuse:

211. A call to 211 connects you to a 24-hour helpline for health and human services information. Visit for further resources.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Call 988, or call or text 800-273-8255 for 24-hour crisis support in the case of suicidal or mental health issues.

Crisis Text Line. Text the word HOME to 741741 across the country to connect with a trained crisis counselor for assistance 24/7.

Local help. Many communities have mental health resources through clergy members, medical professionals, emergency room personnel, mental health professionals, school counselors, social workers or other professionals.

911. Always call 911 for any emergency situation where an imminent threat is determined.

NDSU Extension contributed to this article.

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