In one part of Poweshiek County, farmers can come to a center for help against soil erosion. In another, they can get relief from emotional erosion.

Depression, stress and anxiety are the newest farm-country blights, strains on the mind and spirit that are showing up increasingly at the county mental health center in this rural community in central Iowa.

The staff psychologist, who has worked here for 15 years, reports that the mental health effects of the farm economy breakdown are beginning to be seen.

"The problem is getting worse," he said the other morning shortly after the center opened.

His assessment was necessarily a generalized one. The psychologist explained that because the center lacks funds for outreach services, the full breadth of emotional suffering felt by farm families can't be measured.

Then, too, there is what the psychologist calls "the resistance."

This is the accumulation of reluctance, stored as thick as summer sorghum in silos, that sees a visit to a psychologist or psychiatrist as a trauma of shame and weakness.

Shrinks are what the flakes in California pay $70 an hour for, not the farmers of Stableville, U.S.A.

Out here, so it's said, you cope by dealing in straight talk and sticking with the straight poop: you don't cry, you don't bend and you remain an individualist like your father was.

He made it on sunrise-to-sunset hard work and teeth-gritting stamina. What's all this Freudian manure? Who needs the mental health center?

Wives and children, for a start. A recent poll of 212 Iowa State University students reported that 64 percent of them agreed with the statement that much of the academic stress is related to the farm economy crisis.

Last January the university, aided by a new allocation of $200,000 from the Iowa legislature, established a statewide counseling program. In the first month, 1,000 farmers and family members were assisted.

In Rockford, Ill., an official of the cooperative extension service in Winnebago County fears that the psychological stress is hitting the older and retired farm families the hardest.

They helped their children expand the farm to the point that it could support two families, older and younger. Loose money policies allowed for ample credit.

"I have less concern for the young people," said the official, "especially if they got Mom and Dad into indebtedness.

"The older people are hurting more. They are no longer a viable part of the job market. The younger people can be retrained."

Hot lines, crisis centers and social agencies are overloaded in many farm communities as financial strains lead to marital strains.

Psychologists in places like Grinnell use the same language as their California colleagues -- low self-esteem, meaninglessness, burnout. Primal-scream therapy has yet to take over in Poweshiek County, but the wife of an Iowa congressman suggests that similarities exist between rural communities in her state and places like California, New York or Washington.

"Anywhere you live can be a mine field for the emotions," she says.

"If a person stakes the essence of his life and happiness on success in his field, then he is in for hard times when the bottom falls out. You need to have an anchor other than material success.

"I've seen too much suffering because other things in a person's life -- his family, his church -- have not been cultivated."

On the east edge of Grinnell, where the town's houses and shops trickle out into an expanse of cornfields, a 78-year-old white-bearded farmer illustrates the beauty of cultivating more than the land. He is Grinnell Dunham, and few Iowans are as mentally -- or physically -- healthy.

While showing a visitor and a group of students from nearby Grinnell College around his farm the other afternoon, Dunham spoke of the books he cherished reading, the pool games he shoots over on the campus with the city kids and, most especially, the love of his wife, with whom he is now in the sixth decade of marriage.

Dunham is as stable as the barn he built and as level as the land he sows.

Dunham understands that farmers have been victimized by policies beyond their control. His greatest admiration is for those who farmed out of a love of the land.

They kept their operations small, paid for them, rarely used chemicals and knew how to give the earth a rest by planting alfalfa -- which strengthens the soil -- rather than money crops year after soil-depleting year.

If the younger farmers are hesitant about taking their stress and emotional problems to the town psychologist, a visit with Grinnell Dunham might be the kind of therapy they need.