Logan and Warren County cooperative extension offices hosted Farmers’ Dinner Theater last week to raise awareness of mental health in rural southcentral Kentucky.

Students from Logan and Warren County schools took part in the program by spending the week learning about farm safety and how to help residents’ mental well-being. The University of Kentucky College of Nursing helped facilitate lessons.

On Thursday night at the extension office in Russellville, more than 150 people watched as students performed a series of skits showcasing what they learned. Students acted out situations seen commonly on farms that could hurt someone’s mental health.

Every person in attendance was also treated to a free steak dinner while the students performed their skits.

Warren County 4-H Youth Development Agent Janet Turley said the event was centered on mental health because the farming community has a high rate of suicide in the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Believe it or not, Warren and Logan County have had several suicides along with Henderson and Daviess counties. We are the two highlighted groups for this,” Turley said. “Also, I think they chose us because we are counties who have active programs and active agents who can make this happen.”

Turley said the program was funded through a grant obtained by the UK College of Nursing in partnership with UK’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.

Funding for the grant was made possible through support from the Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action, the AARP, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Kentucky Beef Council.

Turley said the dinner theater was created to encourage meaningful conversations within families about mental health once they returned home from the event.

“Maybe they (farmers) are experiencing some of these situations and they will be encouraged to go out and seek that extra help,” Turley said. “The skits practice breathing exercises for coping, and how to deal with someone who is considering suicide.”

A UK news release said the Farmers’ Dinner Theater model was created by Deborah Reed, professor emeritus in the UK College of Nursing, who found that farmers are not persuaded by traditional lectures and don’t have the time in their work schedules to attend educational meetings.

The release also said 112 of Kentucky’s 120 counties are currently considered “medically underserved.”

Turley saw the high turnout from the community Thursday as a positive sign for the future health of the area.

“My minimum goal was that I would’ve liked to have had 100 people here, and I think we have well over that number,” she said. “For people to come out for mental health awareness and to see these kids perform – it’s just great. I’m very proud of these kids.”

Students who participated in the weeklong program were at least in eighth grade and mostly made up of 4-H and FFA members.

Future South Warren High School freshman Caver Woosley, 15, said he was interested in the event after he previously witnessed several classmates struggle with their mental health in middle school.

“I had no idea how to correctly deal with these problems before this,” Woosley said. “I really learned a lot this week.”

One particular skill Woosley and Jenna Coles, a 16-year-old future junior at Logan County High School, learned was QPR (question, persuade and refer) training.

Turley said QPR is similar to CPR due to the training being an ordered set of guidelines to equip an individual assisting someone who is having a health crisis.

“I wanted to learn more about mental health because I know a lot of people around me struggle with it,” Coles said on her involvement. “Sometimes, I don’t know how to deal with that or how to properly comfort them. Doing this has helped me get the knowledge and resources that I need to help people in my community.”

– Follow reporter John Reecer on Twitter @JReecerBGDN or visit bgdailynews.com.