Mental Health Heroes - Dr. Christina Proctor - Clinical Assistant Professor at UGA College of Public Health

Proctor social
Dr. Christina Proctor - Clinical Assistant Professor at UGA College of Public Health

During Mental Health Awareness Month, we're spotlighting Georgians who make a significant impact in the field of mental health, with a special focus on farmer mental health. This week, we're excited to feature a Q&A with Dr. Christina Proctor, a Clinical Assistant Professor at the UGA College of Public Health. Dr. Proctor teaches undergraduate research methods and public health elective courses. As a leading figure in the mental health community, Dr. Proctor works to help people navigate complex topics. This interview highlights her dedication to enhancing mental health outcomes for everyone, particularly in the farming community.

What drew you to focus on the mental health of Georgia's agricultural community? 
I grew up in Madison County, Georgia, and was surrounded by people who worked in agriculture. My research focus has always been rural health-oriented. A few years ago, I saw an article showing the number of farmers who experienced distress and poor health outcomes. I remember feeling like I needed to do something about it. I had this strong desire to go back into communities like the one I grew up in to help farmers. I knew from experience that farmers take care of the people around them and often forget to take care of themselves, and so I wanted to play a small part in helping shift that perspective. Farmers provide for all of us, and we need them to be healthy. 

Why is it important to focus on farmers? 
Farmers and ranchers make up less than 2% of the US population, yet they produce almost 90% of the food Americans eat. I want you to think about the enormous pressure we, the American consumers, place on a small and dwindling population. Farming is also one of the most dangerous occupations, and even more, many of our farmers have witnessed traumatic events, suffered through extreme weather, and taken huge financial risks. But farmers have an expectation of resilience placed on them, and they are celebrated for "overcoming the odds," which makes it hard for them to reach out for help in times of distress. In addition, many farmers live in rural areas where mental health resources are scarce, and self-employment causes insurance to be even scarcer. 

How can we help people in our community that may be struggling with their mental health? 
First, we must work harder to de-stigmatize mental health issues in rural areas. Everyone in the community must be willing to have open and honest conversations about mental health. This includes family members, pastors, bankers, feed store managers, and doctors. Part of reducing stigma is listening and connecting. Our poor coping strategies arise from disconnection, and hopelessness is rooted in our inability to be vulnerable. 

Also, familiarizing yourself with resources that are available for mental health so you can refer individuals who might be struggling to get professional help. Get trained in Mental Health First Aid, take a QPR training, or if you are a provider, investigate doing the Farm Response program to help you better serve your agricultural patients. In addition, know phone numbers for crisis hotlines such as 988 or the Agristress helpline. 

If you could only choose one mental health tip or piece of advice to share, what would it be? 
I know from growing up in a rural area that we take pride in doing things ourselves. I used to think that admitting that I needed help would be seen as a weakness. But through my work with farmers, I've come to realize that devaluing emotions in the name of being seen as resilient isn't worth it. Resilience can include taking care of yourself and your mental well-being by talking about your struggles. It can be signified by seeking help when you need it. There are so many people out there going through the same thing as you, and when you talk about it, you are allowed to connect and heal in ways you never will if you hold it all in. 

What is your favorite way to maintain your own mental health? 
I have been a runner since middle school, and to this day, I will tell you that running has saved my life. I use it as an outlet for stress relief, to connect with others, and to have peaceful moments to reflect on the things that I am grateful for in this life. 

What social media accounts should we tag when we post this feature? 
Instagram- publichealthuga, cproctor41
Facebook-  UGA College of Public Health