Minnesota woman provides mental health services for farmers across the state

Monica McConkey supports farmers with free counseling services.

Photo+courtesy+of+Monica+McConkey.

Amber Langerud Photography

Photo courtesy of Monica McConkey.

by Tess Fitzhenry

Many people say if you choose a job you love you will never work a day in your life. For Monica McConkey, that is the case.

Through a contract with the Minnesota Centers of Agriculture Excellence, which connects farmers to resources, McConkey and her colleague Ted Matthews provide counseling services in the state of Minnesota for farmers, their family members and children.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture provides a farm and rural health hotline number, email and text option “FARMSTRESS,” which can connect clients to Matthews or McConkey. Whether they meet farmers by phone, on Zoom meetings or in person, the confidential meeting is free.

With the prevalent effects of climate change and high intense weather events such as drought, many farmers are experiencing high levels of stress and anxiety about the future of their farms.

The effects of drought have caused many dairy farmers to sell their cows because they cannot afford them.

“When we look at weather related events and impacts for farmers, a top stressor is that it’s outside of their control,” McConkey said. “They go into every spring with faith that the seeds will be successful.”

Topics farmers often bring up in counseling relate to worries around transitioning the farm to the next generation, relationship issues or conflicts in the home or on the farm. They go on to say that trauma from accidents or injuries on the farm, or loss of a loved one to suicide are also brougt up often.

With her knowledge of farm life and 25 years in the practice, McConkey has the ability to help mental health providers understand how a farmer’s issues may differ from a typical client.

Growing up on a fifth-generation farm in Bejou, Minnesota makes McConkey take her work close to heart.

“When the contract was presented to me, it felt like coming home,” McConkey said.

After receiving her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Southeastern University and a master’s degree in counseling from Regent University, McConkey has spent her whole career working in the rural behavioral health community.

In 2016, Eyes on the Horizon Consulting was formed out of her passion to provide services to underserved rural communities.

Everyone McConkey had the chance to connect with all shared the commonality of a farm.

“I work with people who are like my own family, have similar struggles, the same passion for land and agriculture,” she said. “I can help them through their struggles because I understand what it’s like.”

As a certified trainer for the “Question Persuade and Refer” industry approach, she works alongside communities and organizations with suicide prevention projects.

She has also partnered with the University of Minnesota Extension on a publication about strategies to build resilience and alleviate rural community stress.

McConkey has also expanded her work outside of Minnesota, visiting Wisconsin and North Dakota to speak about farm stress, rural mental health and other topics at conferences. McConkey will travel to Las Vegas in December to discuss relationships on the ranch with the Working Ranch Magazine publication.

When asked about her hopes for the future, she wants people to view mental health on the same level as physical health.

“There shouldn’t be a stigma anymore, society needs to value them as equal and legitimate health issues,” she said.