SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) — Illinois Department of Agriculture Director Jerry Costello II announced a grant award of $500,000 to help develop more farmer stress-related mental health initiatives.

Officials said the Farm Family Resource Initiative (FFRI) was established in Illinois in 2019. It focuses on addressing the mental health needs of farming and agricultural communities. Members of the FFRI Committee are from the government, commodity groups, academic institutions and the healthcare industry.

According to officials, the FFRI was led by Southern Illinois University School of Medicine to launch a six-county pilot program. It provides a telephone hotline that connects farmers with mental health resources. The program is initially available for Christian, Logan, Macon, Macoupin, Morgan and Sangamon counties. The new grant will allow it to expand to all counties in Illinois.

“As governor, I’ve sought to make Illinois a state where mental health care should not and cannot be treated as a secondary healthcare service,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “That includes tailoring mental health resources to better support our farmers and farm families, whose industry keeps everyone else afloat. I’m proud to expand our Farm Family Resource Initiative to all 102 of our counties to ensure our rural communities are getting the care they deserve.”

“Farmers are on the front lines to provide food for our communities. The reality of this pandemic is that a new layer of stress has been put on farmers and farm families,” said Senator Scott Bennett. “These additional funds for the Farm Family Resource Initiative will give farmers the support to help recognize and navigate these unprecedented times.”

“SIU School of Medicine’s mission is to optimize the health of central and southern Illinois. The FFRI program 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,” said Jerry Kruse, MD, MSPH, Dean and Provost of SIU School of Medicine. “With partners like the Illinois Department of Agriculture, we can move the health of farm families forward.”

Officials said the $500,000 grant will be given to the State Department of Agriculture to connect people who are engaged in farming, ranching, and other agriculture-related occupations to stress assistance programs.

The Farmer Assistance Helpline is available 24/7 and seven days a week at 1-833-FARM-SOS.