Chan to counsel Md. farmers on mental health
COLLEGE PARK, Md. — The University of Maryland Extension recently hired a specialist to help educate farmers and other state residents struggling with mental and behavioral health.
Alexander Chan, a former 4-H youth development agent in Prince George’s County, began the new position about four months ago as the first wave of the coronavirus was cresting in Maryland.
Chan, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Washington, is part of the Extension’s Family & Consumer Sciences program, which counsels residents on creating healthy living environments. That includes farmers, a cohort at risk for mental health struggles. The suicide rate among farmers is about twice the national average, Chan said.
“Farming is a profession where you encounter a lot of loss and uncertainty. Most people derive a lot of stability and resilience in having a measure of predictability in their lives,” he said. “Farmers themselves are prone to suffering the effects of a profession that has a lot of risk and sometimes little reward.”
Chan said he’d like to improve the level of access farmers and others have to mental health education and reduce the stigma that still plagues mental health issues in some corners of the culture, particularly among farmers.
“I think that’s related to some of the self-sufficient nature of farmers,” he said.
Chan isn’t providing therapy but said he hopes to create programs offering advice on mental health, and he can also guide farmers as they work through situations that can create mental health issues such as farm transitions between generations. He expects to assist other professionals, such as financial advisors, who might find themselves in difficult situations.
“Issues of succession and legacy planning, that involves a lot of family dynamics,” Chan said. “A lot of (professionals) aren’t mental health experts. It may be hard to manage some of the challenges these families bring with some of the succession issues.”
He recently advised a group of healthcare workers on managing bereft family members unable to see their dead — or dying — loved ones due to coronavirus restrictions. Healthcare workers, he said, need to be prepared to face rage and anger without being overwhelmed or offended.
“That takes practice,” he said. “That takes skill building.”
Another goal of Chan’s is to counsel people across the state about preventing mental health issues, including stress management techniques and conflict management. He said he encourages farmers and anyone else to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Farmers derive a lot of meaning from the work they’re doing, but sometimes the stress can be overwhelming,” he said.
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P.O. Box 2026 Easton, MD 21601-8925