Ashton Gebhard has driven hours to avoid the stigma of living with depression in a small farm town, and he’s waited weeks for an appointment in a region where therapists are scarce.
The 35-year-old grew up on a farm in Kansas near the Nebraska state line.
Diagnosed with depression in high school, he drove four or five hours to see a therapist because he feared seeing someone local would brand him as different.
“At the time, I still had a lot of personal stigma over it,” he said.
To break free from farm life, he went to college, majored in finance, and lived in Omaha for a decade.
In the city, mental health resources were more plentiful. When a cousin he was close to took his own life, Gebhard attended a support group run by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. It really helped.
But after a decade in a cubicle, Gebhard jumped at the chance to return to the farm. In 2017, his grandfather stepped back from day-to-day farm operations and let him take charge.
The move back to Long Island, Kansas, meant trying to find a local therapist in a remote area.
It was about a month before he could get in for an initial appointment more than 20 miles away.
Patients near Long Island commonly wait a month or longer, he said.
In the meantime, Gebhard said, “God forbid something comes up.”
Those hurdles can deter someone from getting treatment before they’ve even begun, Gebhard said.
“The very nature of depression and mental health is such that you run into a tiny stumbling block and that's enough to derail you completely,” he said. “And you're like, ‘I guess there's nothing that can be done, and I can’t be helped.’”
His experiences led him to volunteer locally with the suicide-prevention foundation that had helped him in Omaha. He co-coordinates the annual Out of Darkness Walk in Hays, Kansas, and speaks about suicide prevention and awareness.
To help farmers, Gebhard said, churches and co-ops where farmers already gather should host training about how to spot the signs of suicidal thinking.
“I can guarantee that even the smallest town – like our town of 100 people – has at least one church,” he said. “That's where everyone in the community is going to be, and that's your chance to interact with everyone.”