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As the granddaughter of a Hardin County farmer, Jami Dellifield knew that agriculture didn’t easily make room for mental health care.
“We pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and nobody talks about hard things – it’s a pride issue,” said Dellifield, a family and consumer science educator with OSU Extension in Hardin County. But when she started in her role six years ago, she quickly realized that the office needed to do much more to help farmers seek care for the mental stress of their 24-hour-a-day jobs. So, she set to work.
As a result of that outreach, Dellifield was recently awarded the first Yvonne Lesicko Perseverance Prize, established to honor Lesicko’s work at the Ohio Farm Bureau that helped create the state’s Got Your Back coalition to combat farm stress. The prize, known as The “Y” Prize, was set up after Lesicko’s unexpected death in 2020. Its goal is to reduce the stigma around mental health issues.
Dellifield, who suffers from anxiety but wasn’t diagnosed until she was in her 30s, is part of what she calls a “small but mighty” group of Extension educators who are passionate about helping farmers understand that “it’s OK sometimes to not be OK.”
They give presentations to commodity groups, talk with FFA chapters, help social workers-in-training understand the stresses of farming and develop programming for 4-H. They pass out resource cards with mental health information at public functions and partner with state agencies to create coalitions that address the issue. They also teach officials from banks and other lenders to recognize when their clients may be suffering from mental health stress, as well as educate themselves through state and national programs such as Mental Health
“The goal is more awareness and education to destigmatize mental health problems,” Dellifield said. “This problem was always around but it just wasn’t talked about. We excused it away, using language like ‘They’re down in the dumps.’ Now we’re recognizing it’s a diagnosis and people are realizing it’s OK to take medicine for a behavioral health issue.”
Dellifield, who lives in Ada and has two college-age children with husband David, said most farmers are receptive to the information and sometimes share stories of their struggles.
“When you give people a place to share where they feel safe, it becomes less taboo and more commonplace,” she said. Often they don’t realize that spending more time alone or having four beers instead of two or not engaging in community activities can be signs their mental health is stressed, Dellifield said.
Having collaborated with Lesicko on the Got Your Back campaign, Dellifield said it’s a special honor to receive the first “Y” prize.
“I was lucky enough to have worked with Yvonne and I am humbled to receive a prize named after her,” she said. “I do a lot of other things with Extension, but to me this permeates so much of what we do and how we do things. This is what I’m passionate about.”
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