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UH: Promoting mental health for Hawaiʻi farmers : Maui Now


Award presentation group shot. PC: University of Hawaiʻi

Nearly 50% of farmers in Hawaiʻi under the age of 46 have suffered from experiences of depression, and nearly 14% with suicidal thoughts, according to a study published in 2023 by the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR). Agriculture is a high-stress enterprise with lots of risks and uncertainties, including volatile markets, fluctuating weather, invasive species and other stressors that agriculture producers must contend with on a daily and seasonal basis.

Due to high rates of stress, depression and suicide among this demographic, CTAHR developed Seeds of Wellbeing (SOW) with original funding support from the Hawaiʻi Department of Agriculture/USDA-NIFA in fall 2021 to promote better mental health for those who work in the agriculture industry. SOW provides workshops and educational materials in multiple languages to equip individuals with practical skills for managing stress and promoting mental well-being. SOW also conducts cutting-edge research, producing podcasts that have garnered more than 2,000 downloads, and 1,000 Instagram followers. 

For its efforts, SOW was honored with the Outstanding Community Mental Health Leader award by Mental Health America Hawaiʻi in May. 

“This award validates our dedication and commitment to promoting mental health awareness and support within Hawaiʻi’s agricultural communities,” said Thao Le, CTAHR professor and chair of the Family Consumer Sciences department, and SOW director. “This recognition highlights the effectiveness of our initiatives from the community in addressing mental health challenges and fostering resilience for our farmers and ranchers.”

Ag mentorship training. PC: University of Hawaiʻi.
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Building social connection to address mental health challenges

SOW developed the Hawaiʻi Ag Mental Health Mentorship Program which has trained more than 60 ag mentors to serve as community connector and ag mental health navigator, and is seeking additional funding to expand its program and across the Pacific. Guam, for instance, has reached out and is also interested in replicating SOW’s efforts. 

“We remain steadfast in destigmatizing mental challenges by bolstering social connection and social capital,” said Le. 

SOW collaborates with the Western Region Agricultural Stress Assistance Program, a partnership with 13 states and four territories, Safe States Alliance, and Hawaiʻi Department of Health, Emergency Medical Services and Injury Prevention System Branch, along with other organizations to leverage resources and expertise.

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“The effectiveness of what we do depends on the relationships we build, cultivate, and nurture, so that no one feels alone in their struggles,” said Le.



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