Amy Fischer is seen with a photo of her son, Brian, on her family's 350-cow dairy farm, Darian Acres, in Rio, Wis., on Dec. 18, 2020. Brian died by suicide at the age of 33, on Dec. 21, 2016. The Fischers attribute his death to a combination of stress from work, a drinking problem and depression from a recent break-up. Dairy farmers and their advocates say numerous stressors are leading to a mental health crisis in their industry, including financial pressures, long hours, labor shortages and harsh weather. Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Watch
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WI dairy farmers in distress; recovering from COVID-19; state ahead in virus variant detection; anti-vaxxers vex vaccine distribution; school restraints documented


Of note: This week we highlight our story by Jack Kelly that documents the growing mental health crisis among Wisconsin’s dairy farmers as stressors including wildly fluctuating milk prices, long work hours, a shortage of workers and harsh weather take their toll. In a recent survey, nearly one out of every 10 Wisconsin dairy farmers said they were experiencing depression or other mental health woes. Grant County farmer Jerry Volenec says the daily pressure is overwhelming: “Right now I’m running with the fewest number of people that I’ve ever run, and I’m running the most land and the most cattle that I’ve ever run. Do the math on that.”

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Amy Fischer is seen with a photo of her son, Brian, on her family’s 350-cow dairy farm, Darian Acres, in Rio, Wis., on Dec. 18, 2020. Brian died by suicide at the age of 33, on Dec. 21, 2016. The Fischers attribute his death to a combination of stress from work, a drinking problem and depression from a recent break-up. Dairy farmers and their advocates say numerous stressors are leading to a mental health crisis in their industry, including financial pressures, long hours, labor shortages and harsh weather. Coburn Dukehart / Wisconsin Watch

The happiness and joy has been sucked out of me’: Wisconsin dairy farmers face mental health crisis

Wisconsin Watch — January 16, 2021

It was Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016. David Fischer had just arrived for work at his dairy farm in Rio, Wisconsin. Fischer, who owns the roughly 350-cow dairy farm with his wife, Amy, was ready for another day of work alongside his twin sons, 33-year-old Kevin and Brian, and a handful of other employees. Fischer soon realized that Brian hadn’t shown up for work. Around midday, while taking a short break for lunch, Fischer and his son Kevin set off to Brian’s house to drop off a feed wagon and check on him. What they found confirmed Fischer’s nagging fears: Brian’s body. He had died by suicide. 

Related coverage: Wisconsin farmers: Fixing farm finances will improve mental health. And from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: New generation of Wisconsin dairy farmers look for a future that keeps them on the land, following their passion

Andrew Seiner, right, stands with his wife, Morganne Seiner, left, on Jan. 9, 2021, at Firemen’s Park in Waterloo, Wis. Morgan received a COVID-19 diagnosis on New Year’s Day, prompting the couple to improvise ways to limit Andrew’s exposure while inside of their home. Angela Major / WPR

So you’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19. What next?

Wisconsin Watch/WPR — January 18, 2021

The world still lacks a silver bullet for helping COVID-19 patients avoid hospitalization, but experts offer a variety of tips that might help — including one treatment, monoclonal antibodies — that many patients and doctors overlook. 

New report shows more than half of schools used restraint or seclusion at least once last year

Wisconsin State Journal — January 21, 2021

More than half of Wisconsin schools in a new report had at least one incident in which students were restrained or secluded during the 2019-20 school year, according to the Department of Public Instruction. Reporting such incidents for the first time, the state said there were 18,457 incidents involving 5,792 students in 1,170 out of 2,248 schools, including some private schools. The report is the first of its kind provided on a statewide scale in Wisconsin after 2019 revisions to a decade-old law. 

Dr. Sheryl Henderson of UW Health receives her COVID-19 vaccine from athletic trainer Ashlee Smith in December. Reluctance to get the vaccine extends to the health care profession, though a UW Health official called it a “very small percentage.” John Maniaci / UW Health

We’re not gonna take it: The COVID-19 vaccine is here, along with efforts to overcome skepticism

Cap Times — January 20, 2021

When her turn comes to take the COVID-19 vaccine, Sue is taking a pass. “Probably the No. 1 reason I won’t get it is I have no fear of COVID whatsoever,” she said. “I’m very healthy, and I stay healthy through natural means like good nutrition, hydration and things like that.” Public health officials are pushing back against what they deem a flood of misinformation that could cause a significant number of people to shun the needle. 

In earlier coverage, Wisconsin Watch found Wisconsinites who insist that the danger from the virus — which has killed more than 5,600 people here — is overblown.

Wisconsin is among the nation’s leaders in the hunt to detect new, more dangerous COVID-19 variants like B.1.1.7

Appleton Post Crescent — January 19, 2021

Former Wisconsin Watch intern Madeline Heim finds that Wisconsin has a better chance of quickly identifying the more contagious variant of COVID-19 than most other states, and now that it’s arrived, the same surveillance that caught it will help track what comes next. 

The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (wisconsinwatch.org) collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, PBS Wisconsin, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

The byline "Wisconsin Watch" represents members of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism's editorial and public engagement and marketing staff.