Stress, mental health impact agriculture


By Julie Tomascik

Financial issues, farm or business problems, as well as fear of losing the farm, impact farmers’ and ranchers’ mental health.

A recent study by the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) surveyed farmers and farm workers to better understand factors affecting the mental health of farmers, availability of resources, perceptions of stigma, personal experiences with mental health challenges and other relevant issues.

Rural adults, farmers and farm workers surveyed said financial issues (91%), farm or business problems (88%) and fear of losing the farm (87%) impact farmers’ mental health. Stress, weather, the economy, isolation and social stigma were other factors included.

“Farmers and ranchers are some of the most resilient people you will ever meet,” Duvall said. “It takes toughness to put seeds in the ground, invest tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in buying animals, equipment or fertilizer, and trust that those investments will pay off and keep a roof over your family’s heads.”

AFBF’s poll found that a majority of rural adults have either personally sought care (31%) or have a family member (24%) who has sought care for a mental health condition.

“Excess fatigue, headache, withdrawal from usual social interactions, a certain quietness, difficulty with sleeping—all of those things can be seemingly innocuous tings, yet they can be very significant and be signs pointing to an issue certainly related to depression, which is something that can be managed before it gets to an extreme point,” said Dr. Jeffrey Levine, director of the Southwest Center for Agricultural Health, Injury Prevention and Education at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler.

A greater awareness of rural stress and mental health can lead to more solutions.

“If more of us acknowledge it’s a problem and there is no shame in admitting it, then we can begin to help ourselves and each other,” AFBF President Zippy Duvall said. “Looking for warning signs can save a life.”

AFBF is urging Congress to fully fund a new Farm and Ranch Stress Network at the $10 million level authorized in the 2018 Farm Bill.

AFBF is also looking for other ways to offer help. If you have a program or tool that is making a positive difference, email AFBF at ruralstress@fb.org.

Farmers, ranchers, farm workers and rural adults can also contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800.273.8255 (TALK).

Additional stress and mental health resources from AFBF are available here.

“Tough-minded, independent farmers and ranchers are not used to admitting they need help or asking for it,” Duvall said. “It is up to all of us to check in with our friends and neighbors and see how they are doing.”

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