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Ditzenberger: Take time to be kind
Posted On: March 25, 2020

By Mary Hookham for WCO

Jeff Ditzenberger, founder of the Talking, Understanding, Growing, Supporting (T.U.G.S.) program for mental health, believes basic human kindness can cure many issues, but especially mental health issues. He emphasizes the ever-growing need for comprehensive mental health care for farmers and all workers in agricultural-related industries. He started his program to provide support for anybody struggling with mental issues and is specifically catering to men who find it challenging to talk about their feelings.

“Everybody has depression, everybody has bad days, and everybody has those moments where they just want somebody to talk to,” he said. “This is important because we’re losing farmers every single day to suicide.”

Ditzenberger encourages people to attend the T.U.G.S. meetings because taking time to really listen to those who are struggling is crucial. It’s all about being kind, he said.

“A lot of times when things trouble us, it’s just a bad day, not a bad life,” he said. “What’s the cure for mental health? Honestly, it’s just being kind.”

Attendees at the 2020 Forage Symposium listened as Ditzenberger told his story of growing up with a physically, verbally and mentally abusive father. He once helped a neighbor unload a semi truck of straw and got into a accident with his dad’s truck.

“When I told my dad what happened, he told me he was going to talk to our insurance guy about the truck and I better not be home when he gets back,” Ditzenberger said.

He joined the United States Navy as a way to get away from his dad and be part of something bigger than the problems in his own world. He used this experience as a basis for his T.U.G.S. program. When the submarines he was on needed help moving through tight spaces, his superiors would call for a tugboat. The tugboat would come in, pull the submarine where it needed to go and then unhook and leave. Ditzenberger compared this practice to the mental health needs of many people.

“This is kind of like life,” he said. “What if you’re a really big ship, you’re really tough and you have a great steel exterior, but man, sometimes you just need somebody to get you home safe? We can help each other.”

After experiencing some tough marriages, trouble in his career, and alcoholism, he realized he had post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety. So he began taking steps to work through those issues.

“Why is it that we can talk about the common cold and cancer like it’s our ABC’s but we can’t talk about mental health?” he asked.

Ditzenberger struggled to cope with the pressures of his life, so he spent eight weeks planning a suicide attempt. He was charged with felony arson and spent nine months in jail when the attempt failed. Today he is using his life experiences to help others who struggle to face and deal with their feelings.

“Mental health, depression, anxiety and all the other bevy of things that are out there are not a phase,” he said.

Ditzenberger said when people need to talk, having conversations with family members and friends can help relieve stress, but it may not be the best course of action to actually get long-term help with problems. In many cases, those family members and friends are having similar issues.

“Your wife is going through the same thing you are,” he said. “If your son is one of your partners, your brother is a partner, your uncle is a partner, they’re going through the exact same things. Your conversations are the same and there’s no tug to get you out of that.”

He is adamant that mental health is not a phase. Rather, it’s a struggle for people every single day. He encourages his audiences to think about what people actually deal with every day.

“Think about your worst day ever, then put like 10 ton of bricks on top of your head, and then slip your feet into some cement shoes and then go take a walk off a short pier, have the water where you can almost get out of it to breath but not quite, with nobody around to get you out,” he said. “Mental health stays with you all the time.”

Ditzenberger closed his presentation by providing an analogy to a $20 bill. When a $20 bill is brand new, it’s valuable. But as it goes through its life and is crumpled, walked on, dirty, beat up and spit on, it still has its same value. Most people would smooth out the bill and still be able to see its value. People are the same way, he said. They want to be picked up, smoothed out and accepted and loved because they never lost their value.

   “People, this is first-grade sharing stuff,” he said. “You want to know how simple it is to help with the mental health crisis we have in this nation right now? It’s as simple as sharing your time. It’s as simple as picking up that crumpled up $20 bill and smoothing it out and putting it in your pocket. It’s simply becoming somebody’s tug. We need to take the time to be kind to people.”

Watch your email for more information about suicide prevention workshops featuring Jeff and sponsored by WCO.



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