Cultivating Conversations on Mental Health in Agriculture

March 12, 2024

Tanner Hento is an advocate for mental health among his fellow farmers. Hento, secretary of the South Dakota Soybean Association from Avon, lost his mother to suicide when he was 22. Although certainly not a pleasant subject to bring up, according to Hento, talking about one’s response to stress is important.

“I’m just kind of trying to be more overt about it and talking about things when we do have a problem, and I’ve kind of carried that with me with agriculture,” Hento told the South Dakota Soybean Network. “I’m well aware of the stresses and it’s somewhat mitigated now that prices have been better, but times are going to get tough again, and I think farmers try to be very stoic and act like everything is ok. I try to push that it’s ok to say we need help. Your mental health is no different to me than if you have a heart problem.”

There will always be circumstances resulting in stress, and while farmers are not the most likely to discuss feelings, in Hento’s opinion, sharing one’s burdens is essential.

“It’s ok to not be ok and talk about when you do have a problem, especially to family, before something gets worse,” he said. “Being a really big proponent of openness is really what I’m going for.”

Hento said the loss of his mother was not connected to agriculture, but he adds that reaching out to caring individuals, either professionals or loved ones, might prevent something that leaves survivors with deep scars.

“Even if you don’t want to divulge too much, just admitting that things aren’t ok goes a long way,” said Hento. “A lot of people just want to be heard even if there isn’t a solution, just knowing that there’s somebody there for you when you are ready. I think, especially for my own mother, the loneliness and feeling of alone is what got her, so I think if we can just learn to somewhat lean on each other. Even if it’s something as simple as saying ‘I’m not ok,’ I think would be a great way to start.”

Hento had his own stress to cope with. He lost both parents within six months of each other. He remains comfortable with his decision a decade ago to leave med school and return, with his brother, to run the family farm.

“I really felt at peace with the farm. I knew that it was my calling. I knew that there was something greater for me to do than my career in medicine at the time,” he said. “It was really agriculture that pushed me through. It was a love of the fam, feeling that even though my parents were gone in this mortal world, they were still with me out there in the field,” concluded Hento. “That’s how I handled that.”