The milk check doesn't stretch nearly as far as it should. Each week you sit down and decide which bills you'll pay this week and which bills will have to wait. When you order feed, the mill's owner asks if you'll be sending a payment. Your equipment dealer sends a letter stating they'll be starting a cash-only policy next month. Sound familiar?

If so, consider yourself part of the majority. If there's one thing dairy farmers have been hearing since the milk price crashed last January, it's that we're all in this together.

"All dairy farms are struggling financially, whether they've got a 1,500-cow herd or a 50-cow herd," said Ted Matthews, the Director of Mental Health for Minnesota's Farm Business Management Program.

This financial stress is leading to an understandably high level of mental and emotional stress for farmers and farm families. The effects of farm financial stress on the mental health of farmers, farm families, children and their communities can be significant. (1)

"There's a real sense of hopelessness out there," Matthews said. "A lot of farmers don't understand why this [crisis] happened and there's no clue as to when it's going to end."

"I'm seeing a lot of wives who are concerned about their husbands. And a lot of husbands who are really concerned about their families and farms," Matthews said.

Matthews also said a lot of farmers don't know what to do about the situation they're in.

"That old German ethic of 'work a little harder' is really being tested. Work a little harder just doesn't work anymore," Matthews said. "And it's hard for farmers to mentally adjust to that concept."

Matthews said it's especially important for farm families to stick together when times are tough.

"Instead of separating themselves, which is what farmers normally do during times of stress, they need to rely on family. 'We are a family. We will float as a family or we will sink as individuals,'" Matthews said.

Telling someone else about your situation and your worries, whether anonymously through a helpline or during a counseling session, is one of the best ways to cope with stress.

"You have nothing to lose and everything to gain," Matthews said about counseling.

This is undoubtedly one of the toughest times in the history of our nation to be a dairy farmer. It's also one of the most important times for farmers to take care of themselves and their families. The following is a list of resources for dairy farmers.

Sowing the Seeds of Hope

"Rural and farm families are independent problem solvers. However, some concerns in life can be difficult to solve alone or with family and friends." (2) Sowing the Seeds of Hope provides training in understanding rural and agricultural issues for the people who staff helplines in seven Midwestern states, including Minnesota, Iowa, and South Dakota (see below).

• Minnesota - Crisis Connection: 1-866-379-6363

www.crisis.org

"A nonprofit agency that provides 24-hour crisis counseling by telephone." Crisis Connection can connect callers with local resources, including low-cost counseling services.

• Iowa - Iowa Concern: 1-800-447-1985

http://www.extension.iastate.edu/iowaconcern/homepage.html

"A source of help and information for Iowans in need."

• South Dakota Rural Helpline: 1-800-664-1349

"A free crisis and information hotline available 24-hours for help with depression, suicide, drug or alcohol abuse, divorce, aging issues, domestic abuse, family conflict, health issues and financial problems."

Ted Matthews, Mental Health Director, Minnesota Farm Business Management Program

320-585-5671 - office

320-266-2390 - cell

Ted provides crisis intervention and counseling for farmers, couples and families on a variety of issues.

University of Minnesota Extension. Dealing with Stress: A Web-based Educational Series

http://www.extension.umn.edu/ToughTimes/dealing-with-stress.html

A series of 15-25 minute online presentations.

Minnesota Farmer-Lender Mediation Program

218-935-5785; http://www.extension.umn.edu/community/Mediation/index.html

"The Minnesota Farmer-Lender Mediation Program helps facilitate discussions on credit problems. Mediation means better results for farmers, as well as banks, implement dealers and manufacturers, credit services and other lenders who are critical to rural America."

Note: "For borrowers, the barriers [to mediation] are largely emotional. The process of facing debt and laying it out bare to a host of lenders and outsiders is humbling and can be humiliating. And staying in debt for any period of time requires a state of denial. The words and care that good mediators use are artful in breaking through the denial and creating a productive environment. When it is done well, people understand the mutual benefit. As one debtor put it, 'You've made me feel as though we are all in this boat together. It is sinking, but everyone involved has to help paddle, because coming to a resolution helps me, my family, the lender, and the entire community.'" (3)

Minnesota Farm Advocates: 1-800-967-2474

http://www.mda.state.mn.us/about/farmadvocates.htm

Site includes list of the 12 Farm Advocates and their phone numbers

"Farm Advocates provide one-on-one assistance for Minnesota farmers who face crisis caused by either a natural disaster or financial problems. Farm Advocates understand the needs of our agricultural families and communities. They are trained and experienced in agricultural lending practices, mediation, lender negotiation, farm programs, crisis counseling, disaster programs and to recognize the need for legal and/or social services."

Farmers' Legal Action Group, Inc.: 1-877-860-4349 (Minn. only); http://www.flaginc.org/index.php

"A nonprofit law center dedicated to providing legal services to family farmers and their rural communities in order to help keep family farmers on the land."

Land O'Lakes 24/7 Assistance Program: 1-888-371-1125

"Members and their immediate family can call anytime to receive counseling, support, service referrals, and crisis intervention on a wide range of topics. From child to senior care; parenting to education; financial services to identity theft; and even a free 30-minute legal consultation."

DFA Cares Hotline: 1-888-404-MILK

"The hotline was created to offer members a resource for general questions, market information and access to the Member Assistance Program, which offers trained professionals who provide resources for dealing with stress, depression, and legal and financial consultation."

(1) Beeson, Peter. Farm Crisis. National Association for Rural Mental Health. http://www.narmh.org/publications/archives/Farm_Crisis.pdf. 1999.

(2) http://www.extension.iastate.edu/iowaconcern/seedsofhope.html

(3) Hoelting, Joyce. Lessons learned from 22 years of debt mediation. http://www.minneapolisfed.org/publications_papers/pub_display.cfm?id=4193. May 2009