While I was originally assigned to cover a simple farm-to-table panelist event in Denver, one audience member asked the commissioner of agriculture what he thought about the growing crisis in rural communities caused by unusually low commodity prices. The commissioner responded that the state would soon launch a mental health crisis hotline, but that it was in its early stages.
When I got back to the newsroom, I turned in my coverage of the panel, and promptly pitched a larger story about the mental health crisis in rural communities to my business editor. The editors had recently started a special project called “The Colorado Divide,” a series of in-depth and investigative articles to address the lack of resources in rural Colorado compared to the prosperity in urban areas such as Denver, Fort Collins, Boulder and Colorado Springs.
My editor and I spent a while digging through clips to see if anyone else had written about it, because the commodity prices dropped in 2012. We couldn’t even find a mention. No one had reported it. I spent my last four weeks at the Post analyzing state economic data and interviewing key players Colorado’s agricultural industry–the third largest industry in the state. The story ran as the Sunday business centerpiece and was packaged with the special project.
Joe Miller’s longtime friend and neighbor committed suicide in the early 1990s. Signs were there – a farmer struggling to make ends meet after consecutive years of downturn coupled with a divorce – but he didn’t reach out for help when Miller drove him home the same night that he killed himself.
“He didn’t say a word,” said Miller, who operates a family farm 15 miles east of Longmont.
Now, after several years of historically low commodity prices, farmers across Colorado are facing financial pressures reminiscent of the 1980s. What’s more, farmers are growing older, and fewer young people are entering the field. Selling the family farm is no longer unthinkable.
With these troubles and the isolated nature of farm work and life come mental health battles, not the least of which is depression, and Colorado has responded by extending a crisis hotline to rural areas in the state. The move aims to lend a hand to a group that historically has high suicide rates.
Read the rest of the story in The Denver Post.