Southpaw Packing Slices Through the Stigma
A Maine meat processor and butcher shop is seeking to end the stigma about caring for your mental health.If you want to succeed in the small meat processing industry, it helps to have a strong work ethic, dedication and determination. Yet, those same strengths can be weaknesses at times, too. If you are suffering from depression or anxiety, you might be tempted to just push through it and ignore the problem – or worse, self-medicate with dangerous and addictive substances like drugs or alcohol.
The truth is that investing in your mental health is just as important as your physical health. But while there is no shame in visiting a doctor for checkups, there is a stigma in admitting that you need help with your mental health. It's a stigma that has done far too much damage to people's lives, and it needs to disappear. One Maine processor is seeking to do just that by starting a fundraising campaign, “Slicing through the Stigma.”
Southpaw Packing Co., which does business as Windham Butcher Shop in Windham, Maine, is owned and operated by Leon and Nichole Sargent. Leon has more than 30 years of experience in meat processing and retail management. Niki, in addition to an agriculture background, had an extensive career in Health and Human Services.
“General wellness and mental health is something I'm very passionate about,” she says. “Shortly after purchasing the slaughter and processing plant and meeting with farmers, it became shockingly evident that most did not have access to mental health services, let alone healthcare.”
With her background, Niki had known about NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Maine and had utilized its services in the past. Realizing that the ag community needed help, she launched the “Slice Through the Stigma” campaign. People interested in donating to the campaign can learn more at http://www.namimaine.org/southpawpacking.
NAMI Maine estimates that mental illness affects 1 in 4 Mainers. The agriculture community is at risk, since the stigma prevents people from speaking up and getting support. The organization reports that in the farming industry, men represent 95.9% of suicide deaths, with a mean age of 57 at the time of death. Risk factors include physical health problems and loss of ability to complete tasks due to injury, loss of relationships and grief, work burdens and economic hardships.
“With the support from Southpaw Packing Company, we can help people feel more comfortable and willing to talk openly about mental health,” the organization said in a statement. “The funds raised advance mental health support, education, and advocacy in Maine.”
The meat industry has always had its challenges, but the COVID pandemic brought additional stresses that are still being felt. “The responsibility of keeping ourselves and employees safe and healthy was overwhelming,” Niki says. “We carried a heavy burden as business owners. We had producers and farmers demanding our services, screaming at us, wanting us to do more, work more. We had others losing everything and would cry and have breakdowns in front of us. We suffered tragic losses, losing producers and farmers we thought of as friends. It changed how we operated, our goals, and vision for the future.”
Several years ago, Southpaw Packing launched a Health and Wellness page on its website, and NAMI Maine was happy to help get the message out to the state's ag community. The company has implemented a benefits package that focuses on physical and mental wellness and health. Niki says that the company is expanding on it to include things like financial security and lifestyle benefits, as those areas also can add stresses to life. “We are also willing to support our producers and farmers' well-being and assist them in locating services and ensuring they are receiving adequate care,” says Niki. “As a processor, we believe we are a central informational hub, and therefore have an opportunity to make a difference.
“I am merely a drop in the ocean,” she adds, “but I can Slice Through the Stigma around mental health services by speaking openly about it, and offering resources and a safe space for people.”
For more information about Southpaw Packing/Windham Butcher Shop, visit https://southpawpacking.com/. For more information about NAMI Maine, visit www.namimaine.org/annual-reports.