BANCROFT, NE – Legal Aid of Nebraska’s Farm and Ranch Project houses the Rural Response Hotline dedicated to helping rural residents in crisis. The Rural Response Hotline was created in 1984 by a coalition of farm and faith-based organizations to combat the 1980s farm crisis. Today, the hotline has served over 13,000 individuals since starting the mental health voucher pilot project in 1999.
As the Hotline grew, it became a one-stop shop for farmers and ranchers, offering financial assistance, disaster relief, emotional support, and legal assistance. One of the biggest services it provides is free mental health vouchers for rural residents who are in need of mental health counseling. In 2022, the Hotline issued 8,224 free mental health vouchers and responded to almost 7,000 calls. Currently, 372 clinicians statewide participate in the free mental health voucher program.
Not addressing mental health needs can have a devastating impact on individuals, families, and communities. Suicide was the twelfth leading cause of death in the United States in 2020, claiming the lives of nearly 46,000 people according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), there is approximately one death by suicide every 11 minutes. The risk is even greater for those living in rural areas, where between 2000 – 2020, suicide rates increased by 46%. The suicide rate among farmers is three and a half times higher than among the general population, according to the National Rural Health Association.
“There is a clear lack of resources in greater Nebraska, especially regarding mental health and counseling,” said Michelle Soll, Legal Aid of Nebraska’s Farm and Ranch Project Manager. “The Rural Response Hotline is a lifeline for many farmers and ranchers and we are the connector to those in crisis with life changing and saving resources.”
Alongside mental health resources, the Rural Response Hotline also provides one-on-one consultations with financial counselors and attorneys to help farmers and ranchers make informed financial decisions and understand their legal rights. They also refer callers to disaster relief resources when floods, fires, storms, or other natural disasters inhibit farm and ranch operations. Free monthly clinics throughout Nebraska are also offered for specialized topics such as succession planning, farm loan programs, debtor/creditor law, and mediation.
The Rural Response Hotline is the longest-running hotline of its kind and has even served as a model for other states that have implemented the same resource for rural residents. The Rural Response Council, which consists of the following members and partners, governs the Hotline: Nebraska Farmers Union, Great Plains Conference of the United Methodist Church, Homestead Presbytery Church, Christian Church of the Disciples of Christ, Nebraska Women Involved in Farm Economics, Nebraska Grange, Farm Aid, M. Eighmy Foundation, and the Nebraska Farmers Union Foundation. The mental health voucher program partners with the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. The free monthly clinics are in partnership with the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, NextGen & Negotiations Programs. The Hotline is supported by grants, private industry, and charitable donations. If you are interested in supporting the Rural Response Hotline, visit farmhotline.com.
If you are a rural resident in need of farm and ranch operations crisis assistance, call the Rural Response Hotline at 800-464-0258 or visit farmhotline.com for more resources. If you are in need of mental health assistance, call or text 988, Nebraska’s Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.
Legal Aid of Nebraska was established in 1963 and is the largest statewide non-profit civil legal aid provider in Nebraska, providing free high-quality services to low-income Nebraskans in all 93 counties. Legal Aid’s mission is, “to promote justice, dignity, hope and self-sufficiency through quality civil legal aid for those who have nowhere else to turn.” Legal Aid has offices in Lincoln, Omaha, North Platte, Norfolk, Grand Island, Scottsbluff and Bancroft.