As Farmers Face Growing Stress, How to Navigate Mental Health Concerns

Farmers and ranchers continue to weather the extremes of 2020.  From drought, derecho and wildfires, to a sudden loss in demand for dairy, 2020 is proving to be an obstacle course for agriculture. Here are the mental health signs to watch. ( AgWeb )

Farmers and ranchers continue to weather the extremes of 2020.  From drought, derecho and wildfires, to a sudden loss in demand for dairy, 2020 is proving to be an obstacle course for agriculture.

“Probably most sectors of agriculture like crops, corn and beans and cattle and hogs are all facing added stress,” said Tim Homan of Rabo AgriFinance during Farm Journal Field Days in Iowa.

The financial frustration is mounting and bleeding over into mental health concerns.

“Farmers, even in best times, have a very high rate of suicide,” said Deborah Reed, with the University of Kentucky, during the Farm Journal Field Days hosted a mental health and managing stress on the farm discussion. “We don't know what this particular time is going to bring, but we do know there are a lot more calls being made to the hotlines right now. So, we need some intervention.”

Reed says it’s not just farmers and ranchers on the frontlines feeling the impacts of added stress. She says entire farm families are feeling and experiencing increased pressure and concerns right now.

“We are hearing from a lot more farmers reaching out for help in various ways, and not just from the farmers themselves, but from their family members,” she adds. “It’s also children. We can't forget those children on the farm.”

Reed says her biggest advice for families enduring added stress and trying to wade through all the uncertainty—take care of yourself first.

“As stress builds up, you not only have those physical consequences, but you're not able to make decisions or you make poor decisions that affect your bottom line on the farm,” says Reed. “You have a chronic anxiety which affects everyone around you, you may actually exhibit clinical depression. And if it keeps going down, you could begin to have feelings of hopelessness. Maybe you've even thought of harming yourself. These are very serious outcomes.”

Those serious outcomes are what the American Soybean Association (ASA) and the United Soybean Board (USB) are trying to help prevent through a new effort called #SoyHelp.

“Our #SoyHelp campaign for farm stress is an initiative that really came from this COVID pandemic where we saw a clear connection, and our farmers indicated that they were experiencing high levels of stress,” says Wendy Brannen, senior director of marketing and communications for ASA.

ASA developed the Soy Help Farm Stress Initiative from a COVID task force the organization put together. As farmers gave input on how the pandemic was impacting them on a personal and professional level, Brannen says it became clear ASA needed to take action.

“We really wanted to go ahead and get these resources out there because of COVID and the stress that people were clearly experiencing,” she adds.

Brannen says seeing the need, the group created an inclusive campaign to help farmers reach out for help. 

“Certainly, we wanted things that were specific to farmers, but we also wanted state specific resources,” she says. “We have about 30 soybean producing states that are really active in growing soybeans, and we wanted resources for them. We wanted national resources for the suicide help lines and those sorts of tools, as well.

From social media campaigns to news stories, Brannen says the conversation is continuing with the hashtag #soyhelp. It’s an evolving conversation Reed hopes will continue down the road as it’s important to recognize the signs of stress and know when it’s time to seek help.

“If you're looking at your family members or your friends, I think anything that just seems out of character for them over a period of time,” says Reed about recognizing the signs that someone may need help. “Everybody has an off day, but if you notice that this is becoming a regular thing, and they have panic attacks or express increased anger or let the farm run down, those are real signs of saying, ‘Hey, how are you doing? Are you okay? Because this is a tough time for all of us.’ Giving them an opening like that, to mention it, that’s just a good way to open a conversation.”

Reed says having those candid conversations with the goal of opening up about mental health, could also help remove the stigma around mental health in agriculture for good.

Listen to the full discussion about "Mental Health and Managing Stress on the Farm", visit Farm Journal Field Days