Brown and Fullenkamp

It wasn’t the fact that his pigs got out of the barn that made Highland County farmer Brandon Fullenkamp think twice about his mental health status, but it was who he called to help him get the pigs back in. Instead of calling one of the nearest neighbors for wrangling assistance, Fullenkamp called Nathan Brown. Brown also lives in Highland County, but almost 15 minutes away from the escaped pigs.

“When we got all of the animals back in the barn where they belong, Nathan mentioned that he thought something didn’t seem right,” Fullenkamp said. “I disagreed and told him it was nothing more than pigs getting out.”

Brown couldn’t help but notice Fullenkamp’s body language, how some things on the farm were getting away from him and how he called someone from quite a distance for help. Brown listened to his gut and had a tough conversation with Fullenkamp, encouraging him to go out and visit with someone to help him through some of his stress.

“To be honest, I went to a counselor just to prove Nathan wrong,” Fullenkamp said. “It was one of the biggest and most difficult steps I have taken. I wish he was wrong, but it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.”

farmer mental health
Brandon Fullenkamp, left, and Nathan Brown

Brown, who serves on the Ohio Farm Bureau state board as the trustee for District 20, has been at the forefront of the organization’s farm stress and mental health efforts. He has been trained in mental health first aid by Ohio State University Extension and because of his involvement in this important issue, has had some difficult conversations with farmers dealing with stress, anxiety and mental health.

“You don’t have to look very far to find the stress in agriculture and it is heightened even more these days,” Brown said. “The volatility that we are seeing in the supply chain is causing issues with getting parts we need and causing backups in getting grain out of the elevator, not to mention the political unrest we are seeing. Things come at agriculture from so many different directions, from banking to agronomy to policy and trying to mitigate all of the risks associated with farming is becoming more of a challenge than ever before.”

Brown, who has dealt with mental health challenges from a young age, knew that Fullenkamp called him to the farm for a reason.

“It broke my heart to know that he was struggling and it wasn’t something that just started happening that morning, and I knew he needed something more than I could give him,” Brown said. “I offered advice that he should visit a professional to help him work through his issues. There was no need for him to sit and suffer by himself when he has an entire community that supports him.”

Fullenkamp set up an appointment the very next day and admits that after seeing a familiar truck in the parking lot of the counselor’s office, he drove on by so no one would know he was there. About a quarter mile later, after rethinking Brown’s advice, he turned around and made it to that initial appointment.

“I consider myself one of the lucky ones to have a friend like Nathan who encouraged me to go,” Fullenkamp said. “It’s not like I went that one time and all of my stress went away and everything became easier all of the sudden. There are still stresses everyday, but now I have strategies to cope with them and how they affect me. I think that has made me a better husband, a better father, a better farmer and a better friend, I hope.”

Farmer mental health advocate

Fullenkamp has also become an advocate for farmer mental health, after Highland County received funding to bring awareness to the issue throughout the community. That involvement went as far as having Fullenkamp talk about his struggles in videos from the counselor’s office posted on social media.

“At first, I thought that I just wasn’t the right person for this and of all the things I wanted to be known for, this was never on the radar,” Fullenkamp said. “I have met a lot of people who have struggled just like I have and if it isn’t me, who is going to step up and advocate for this?”

Advocating for farmer mental health was far from Fullenkamp’s comfort zone, but he knew it was a place he had to be, despite what others who still stigmatize the topic might say.

“It’s still not something I am comfortable talking about, but if I can just help one person get out of that rut and the stress and the lies that your brain starts to tell you when you go into that depression, then whatever people think of me for speaking out doesn’t much matter.”

Visit American Farm Bureau’s Farm State of Mind website for more mental health resources.

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