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Release: Immediate

I-CASH urges farm families to use hotline for help

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The recent economic downturn in agriculture, particularly in the pork industry where hog prices have plummeted in recent months, could have a devastating effect on the physical health and mental well being of farm families. Knowing where to go for counseling or other services is crucial, say specialists at Iowa's Center for Agricultural Safety and Health (I-CASH), based at the University of Iowa.

"Low commodity prices, especially for pork producers, have created a tremendous amount of economic stress on farm families," said Kelley Donham, UI professor of preventive medicine and environmental health and I-CASH director. "This can lead to any number of problems -- mental health symptoms such as anxiety and depression, marital and family strife, substance abuse, domestic violence and even physical health problems. In times like these, families need access to information and support."

I-CASH representatives were involved in two recent "summits," last Dec. 10-11 in Omaha and on Jan. 14 in Ames, on the current farm crisis and the health of farm families. The overriding consensus from both meetings was that mental, financial and social issues farm families face need to be addressed. Moreover, programs aimed at aiding or counseling farm families need to be accessible and professional, but also collaborative and implemented by people who are familiar with farm issues.

I-CASH recommends that farmers and their families contact the Iowa Concern Hotline toll free at (800) 447-1985 for access to information and services that are available. A program of the Iowa State University Extension Service, the hotline provides stress counseling, legal education, and information and referral for families to find information on financial planning, decision-making and options through various resources.

"Iowa Concern is a 24-hour confidential hotline and has been taking calls from farm families who are dealing with some tough decisions in our changing world of agriculture," said Margaret VanGinkel, coordinator of the line.

I-CASH is a partnership of the UI, ISU, the Iowa Department of Public Health and the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. One of its key objectives is to help reduce illnesses and injuries among Iowa's agricultural population. One such program being developed is SHAUN (Sharing Help Awareness United Network), a counseling and support group service for families and survivors of farm-related deaths and accidents. SHAUN was inspired by a Corning, Iowa woman whose son died in 1989 from a grain auger accident.

NOTE TO EDITORS: I-CASH also has prepared a fact sheet with contact information on additional services, both private and governmental, available to farm families. To obtain a copy, contact I-CASH at (319) 335-4438.