“My dad, a Montana wheat farmer, was born on the farm west of Big Sandy in 1934.”
Montana farmers are known to be strong, independent, and resilient people.
“I think he was really born to be a farmer…”
The kind of people you can only find in the “Last Best Place.”
“I couldn’t really imagine him to be anything different...”
But more and more, those farmers are left feeling hopeless…
“But an unfortunate set of circumstances happened that we weren’t even necessarily aware of…”
…Fighting a losing battle in an ever-diminishing industry.
“…which culminated in him taking his own life in September of 2016 on the farm.”
And the worst part--while they’re struggling to survive, we’re left assuming they’ll be okay, because, well, they’re Montana farmers. They can handle it.
But we’re wrong.
“So he was born on the farm and he died on the farm at his own hands.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Montana has the highest rate of suicide in the country.
In 2016, the CDC produced another study that broke it down by occupation, reporting that farmers suffered a higher rate of suicide than any other job.
That study has since been retracted, due to a number of data flaws. But the overwhelming response, combined with her father’s death, was enough to make Darla Tyler-McSherry take action.
And “Ask in Earnest” was born.
“I’m also proud that there’s nothing on there that’s behind the curtain. You don’t need a username. You don’t need a password, you don’t have to pay for any kind of subscription. So that information is available 24/7 about the issue of suicide and farming,” says Tyler-McSherry.
The idea is simple: to provide a resource for farmers in the furthest corners of Montana, and talk about mental health.
“Obviously more mental health resources and professionals are needed in these areas, but realistically are we going to attract a mental health professional to move to Big Sandy, Montana? Maybe, but probably not.”
Darla is taking a three-pronged approach: self-care, learning to listen differently, and pushing the message, “it’s okay to ask for help.”
And if those three methods don’t resonate, her story alone has been enough to get people talking.
“From a woman in Washington who wrote me and said I was eating lunch and my stomach was churning and my heart was pounding… because your dad sounds a lot like my dad.”
“Ask in Earnest” officially launched in August 2018, and Darla is now working on more community outreach: setting up information at local rodeos, and is even exploring the possibility of becoming a non-profit in the future.
Her work is honorable, and is having an impact.
But it’s also served as a reminder, for her personally, of the dangers of isolation that Montana farmers face every day.
“Your life is forever changed in ways that I never would have imagined before. I never knew such awfulness could exist, and now I know that it does.”
If you or someone you know is dealing with suicide, there is help available 24/7. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK, or you can text the crisis text line at 741741.
For more information about suicide prevention, visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org