People need to be aware of cries for help and respond accordingly, said Robert Fetsch, Extension specialist in human development and family studies at Colorado State University. Fetsch, who is nationally recognized for his research on outreach in mental health issues for farmers, was the principal presenter for the California webinar.

Partners for that webinar included the California Dairy Quality Assurance Program, the Kings County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office and Colorado State University.

Fetsch gave a power point presentation brimming with tips on how to recognize signs of distress and detailing how serious the problem of suicide can be for those in agriculture. The webinar, along with other resources on dealing with stress among dairy farmers, can be accessed at www.cdqa.or/stress_preventoin.htm.

“You need to listen to the people with the most worry,” Fetsch said, adding that could be an in-law or it could be a child. Often, he said, children may be the “canaries” of the family, providing an early warning if something is wrong.

He said other major losses – such as the death of a child or spouse – can compound the problem. And cries for help – such as giving away a favorite dog or possession – can be red flags. Listening to what is said – and how it is said – can be key.

Fetsch, the son of a dairy operator in Texas, said if a person speaks with “a voice that is hollow and doesn’t seem connected with what is going on,” help may be needed.

He said farming of is one of the top 12 high stress occupations, partly because of stressors that include inclement weather, regulatory activity and heavy workloads at peak times.

Michael Payne, a doctor of veterinary medicine who heads the Dairy Assurance Program, said his expertise is more geared to animal welfare and producers’ response to environmental concerns. Payne is also outreach coordinator the Western Institute for Food Safety and Security at the University of California, Davis.

He called the webinar “a first bite of the apple” and said webinar participants are “wrestling with what our next step is.”

Among the webinar participants was Noah Whitaker, an administrative specialist with the Tulare County Health and Human Services Agency. He is coordinating a suicide prevention task force in the county that he hopes will give “specific responses for different populations.”

“Producers, for example, need a different response than the farmhand,” he said, adding that the hope is to respond to economically stressed individuals across the board, while trying to tailor the response to specialties that include agriculture.

Whitaker said he was contacted by someone who saw the webinar and recognized that he had symptoms of depression that were outlined by Fetsch.