[EDITOR’S NOTE: This Farm and Ranch Life column is written by a guest author in Montana, Darla Tyler McSherry.]

The profound experiences of loss and resilience within the farming community resonate deeply within me as I share my family’s story. The story of Dick Tyler, my father, an eighty-two-year-old wheat farmer from Montana, who tragically took his own life, sheds light on the silent struggles that often plague those working in agriculture. Born on the family farm during the Depression, my dad embodied the essence of a dedicated farmer – hardworking, resilient, and deeply connected to the land.

The year 2016 marked a turning point in my life as I grappled with the devastating loss of my father. The incongruent feelings of unimaginable pain and complete numbness engulfed me in the aftermath of his passing.

As my family and I navigated the whirlwind of arrangements for his memorial service, I found solace in the memories of my father’s unwavering commitment to his community and the land he worked tirelessly to cultivate.

A conversation with one of my dad’s friends following his passing has stayed with me every day since that conversation. His friend said this: “When your dad was in town walking down the street and saw you, he would stop and ask in earnest how you were doing. He wasn’t doing it to be nosy or gossipy; he just really cared how you and your family were doing.”

His words captured the essence of my father’s genuine compassion. It was at this moment that the seeds of the Ask In Earnest initiative were sown – a movement born out of tragedy aimed at raising awareness about mental health issues in farming communities.

The untimely loss of my father serves as a somber reminder of the pressing need for mental health awareness and support in the farming sector. With just two percent of our population living and working in farm and ranch communities across America, financial pressures, unpredictable weather patterns, social isolation, and the reluctance to ask for help can significantly affect mental well-being in this population, whose numbers are dwindling. The Ask In Earnest initiative aims to address these challenges head-on, offering a lifeline to those in need and fostering a culture of openness and understanding about mental health.

In the wake of my father’s passing, the mission of Ask In Earnest has become my personal crusade – a way to honor his memory and ensure that his death was not in vain. The initiative is designed to raise awareness, provide support, and empower individuals to recognize warning signs of mental health struggles, particularly depression and suicide.

By breaking down the harmful stigma that often shrouds these issues in silence, Ask In Earnest seeks to create a community where individuals feel empowered to educate themselves and feel safe to seek help and support when needed.

The Ask In Earnest initiative is layered. We conduct social media newspaper insert campaigns to help break down stigma and provide resources. I speak with farmers and ranchers at conferences and conventions, educating and building awareness on the issues of mental health, suicide and self-care. I am also certified to teach QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) suicide prevention classes, which are sixty to ninety minutes in length.

Additionally, Ask In Earnest also offers in-person classes utilizing a tool kit to help farmers and ranchers identify strategies that enhance and protect their mental health by identifying helpful lifestyle habits entailing exercise, nutrition, stress management, sleep, and gratitude.

The journey with Ask In Earnest has been both heartbreaking and empowering, a testament to the resilience and strength of the human spirit in the face of adversity. I am saddened and honored as I speak with others across our agricultural states when they share their stories of loss. I am also heartened to hear stories of resilience and gratitude at second chances, when, for example, someone will choose to share their story of triumph and gratitude after surviving their own attempt.

As I reflect on my father’s life and his impact on those around him, I am filled with a renewed sense of purpose and determination to make a difference in the lives of others. Through the initiative, I hope to inspire conversations, spark change, and support those who may be silently battling their demons.

To the people living and working in farm and ranch communities in America, I extend a heartfelt plea for awareness and action. Mental health is crucial to overall well-being, and we must prioritize these conversations within our communities.

I invite you to join me to do just this: Ask In Earnest, break down the barriers of stigma, and create a culture of care and compassion for those in need.

In closing, please visit www.askinearnest.org and reach out for support if needed, and remember that you are not alone in your struggles. We can make a difference, one earnest conversation at a time.

Thank you for listening to my story, and may it serve as a beacon of hope for those facing similar challenges.