DECATUR, Ill. (AP) — A pilot program aimed at helping farmers and farm families struggling with stress-related mental health issues is expanding to serve all of Illinois.



The Illinois Department of Agriculture announced the $500,000 grant from the the U.S. Agriculture Department during last week's Farm Progress Show in Decatur. The money will be used to build out a six-county pilot program that has connected farmers to mental health providers and resources through a telephone hotline.

In addition to expanding the hotline to all Illinois counties, the program — known as the Farm Family Resource Initiative — will add text and e-mail communication options and increase marketing of the service. A voucher program also will be created for professional behavioral health services.

State Sen. Scott Bennett said the coronavirus pandemic meant "a new layer of stress has been put on farmers and farm families" and the additional funding "will give farmers the support to help recognize and navigate these unprecedented times."



The Illinois Agriculture Department received the grant along with the Southern Illinois University Medicine Center for Rural Health and Social Service Development and the University of Illinois Extension. The SIU School of Medicine has led the pilot program.

Dr. Jerry Kruse, dean and provost of the medical school, said the Farm Family Resource Initiative "is one the best ways to serve the region and the rural families that have been the backbone of many of the communities we serve."