Need: Men in the agriculture industry face high suicide rates due to factors including long hours, geographic isolation, lack of social opportunities, and stigma surrounding mental health care.
Intervention: The Coffee Break Project, a program led by the Southeast Health Group in southeastern Colorado, encourages mental health check-ins for farmers and ranchers through a public awareness campaign and casual coffee gatherings that utilize COMET, an intervention model developed specifically for rural communities.
Results: Between eight and 20 people typically attend each coffee gathering.
The Coffee Break
Project is a community-driven model to support the
mental health and emotional wellbeing of farmers and
ranchers in rural eastern Colorado. The program is led by
Health Group, in partnership with a number of local
businesses and organizations in the region, with biweekly
gatherings held in the town of Rocky Ford. Southeast
Health Group created the program in 2018 after forming a
local advisory committee to explore potential ways to
address high suicide rates among men in the agriculture
industry. The advisory committee was made up of community
members who worked in agriculture themselves; many of the
committee members had personally known a friend or family
member who died by suicide.
With the tagline "Do you look after your neighbors as
close as your crop or herd?," the Coffee Break Project
encourages mental health check-ins for farmers and
ranchers through a public awareness campaign and through
twice-weekly gatherings featuring free coffee and donuts.
These casual gatherings allow farmers and ranchers the
opportunity to talk amongst themselves and check in on
one another in the process. While women are welcome to
participate in the Coffee Break Project's programming,
the program is primarily aimed at men due to the fact
that men experience higher suicide rates and tend to be
less likely to seek out mental health services.
The Coffee Break Project utilizes and hosts trainings in
COMET (Changing Our Mental and Emotional Trajectory),
an intervention model for rural communities developed by
rural community members and researchers at the
High Plains Research Network. The COMET model trains
community members to engage with a friend or acquaintance
who may be experiencing mental health challenges using a
set of simple questions and guidelines.
The program was initially funded solely by the Southeast
Health Group, but has since received grant funding from
the U.S. Department of
Agriculture (USDA) and other organizations. The
Coffee Break Project has also received grant funding from
the High Plains Research Network.
Two mornings a week, the Coffee Break Project hosts
casual gatherings in Rocky Ford for farmers and ranchers
to meet up and chat about life and work. These
gatherings, where free coffee and donuts are provided,
offer participants an informal opportunity to check in on
one another. All coffee gatherings are held at a building
owned by the Southeast Health Group in downtown Rocky
The Coffee Break Project offers COMET trainings in
southeastern Colorado and has occasionally hosted
trainings in other parts of the state. Some trainings are
open to the general public while others are targeted
toward those working in specific professions, such as
first responders, hospice workers, or massage therapists.
Public awareness campaign
The Coffee Break Project began its outreach to the
community by partnering with local businesses to hold
monthly giveaways of items such as coolers and stadium
chairs. Since then, the Project has continued to spread
awareness of its services and mission through bumper
stickers and a traveling display featuring the tagline
"Do you look after your neighbors as close as your crop
or herd?" and by driving around to distribute lunch boxes
with snacks and informational materials to agriculture
workers when they're on the job.
The Coffee Break Project's promotional materials
prominently feature the logos of
nine local and regional businesses and organizations
that the Project has partnered with, most of which are
likely to be familiar to farmers and ranchers in the
area. These partners include a local seed distributor,
the regional livestock commission, a farm in Rocky Ford,
and a tractor dealership. By displaying the logos of
familiar and trusted businesses and organizations, the
Coffee Break Project aims to alleviate any stigma or fear
that may be associated with mental health care.
About eight "regulars" attend each coffee gathering, with
as many as 20 people participating on any given day.
Mental health often carries a stigma in the agriculture
community, leading to a reluctance among some farmers and
ranchers to talk about their own challenges and needs.
From the start, the advisory committee for the Coffee
Break Project acknowledged that some men may not feel
comfortable participating in the coffee gatherings or
other events – and that to reach these men, some outreach
to their spouses or other female friends or relatives may
be needed. The Project's outreach coordinator has worked
to make connections in the agriculture community to
reduce any stigma that may be associated with the
program, and a number of women in agriculture have been
trained in the COMET model.
The geography of sparsely-populated southeastern Colorado
has also created challenges for the Coffee Break Project.
Because the Project covers a broad swath of the state,
reaching some of the more geographically isolated farmers
and ranchers – including those who might live too far
away to regularly attend coffee gatherings – has been
difficult. Insufficient broadband access and cell phone
service in some parts of the region complicates things
further, making it difficult for many farmers and
ranchers to access informational materials or telehealth
Southeast Health Group attributes much of the Coffee
Break Project's success to the ongoing involvement of its
advisory committee members, who meet monthly and
regularly attend outreach events for the program. The
program's leadership team also sees its partnerships with
local agriculture-related businesses and organizations as
key to gaining the trust of the farming and ranching
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in mind that changes to the program design may impact results.