Mental stress on the farm - know the signs and take action ASAP

posted on Tuesday, March 3, 2020 in Current News

Mental health in the agricultural field

By Michigan Farm News

Many farm families are facing the worst economic conditions since the farm crisis of the 1980s. Farm families’ heritage, identity, pride, and finances are tied directly to the farm. Challenging weather, destructive pests, trade disputes, labor shortages and market volatility over the past few years have brought an unprecedented level of pressure on America’s farmers.

An American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) nationwide survey on the issue of mental stress in agriculture revealed an overwhelming majority of farmers and farmworkers say financial issues, farm or business problems and fear of losing their farm negatively impact their mental health.

In addition, 48% of rural adults said they are personally experiencing more mental health challenges than they were a year ago. Nearly one in three farmers doesn’t feel comfortable talking to friends or family members about solutions for a mental health condition.

Bayer and AFBF announced the transition of Bayer’s Farm State of Mind campaign, an initiative to raise mental health awareness among the farming community, to AFBF on Feb. 27.

Farm Bureau plans to combine the Farm State of Mind assets with those of its ongoing Rural Resilience campaign, expanding the reach and effectiveness of its rural mental health initiatives, according to AFBF President Zippy Duvall.

“As a third-generation farmer, I’m familiar with the stress of farm life, and I’ve heard heartbreaking stories as I’ve traveled the country about warning signs missed and loved ones lost,” Duvall said, adding the organization hopes to connect even more farmers with the resources they need.

Complicating the issue is that many farmers are reluctant to talk about the effects of stress or seek help. Knowing the signs and watching for the symptoms of mental stress is a vital first step. Those symptoms can be as subtle as a gradual change from a prolonged physical illness, excessive working hours, or relationship difficulties.

Warning signs of stress

  • Change in routines: Farmers or members of the farm family may change who attends a market, stop attending regular meetings or religious activities, drop out of other groups, or fail to stop at the local coffee shop or feed mill.
  • Decline in the care of domestic animals: Livestock or pets may not be cared for in the usual way.
  • Increase in illness: Farmers or farm family members may experience more upper respiratory illnesses (cold, flu) or other chronic conditions (aches, pains, persistent cough, migraines).
  • Increase in farm accidents: The risk of farm accidents increases with fatigue or loss of ability to concentrate.
  • Decline in appearance of farmstead: The farm family no longer takes pride in the way farm buildings and grounds appear.
  • Decreased interest: Farmers or farm families may be less willing to commit to future activities, sign up for gatherings, or show interest in community events.

Signs of depression or suicidal thoughts

The greater the number of signs of stress a farm family member is exhibiting, the greater the need for additional help and support. If an individual is exhibiting signs of depression or suicidal thoughts, it is important that they get help as soon as possible.

Suicide is a major public health concern. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, over 47,000 people died by suicide in the United States in 2017, making it the 10th leading cause of death overall.

Even more alarming, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline estimates that for every person who dies by suicide, there are another 280 people who have thought seriously about suicide who don’t kill themselves, and another 60 who have survived a suicide attempt.

The overwhelming majority of these individuals will go on to live out their lives. These untold stories of hope and recovery are the stories of suicide prevention and stories that inform the Lifeline and the Action Alliance’s efforts to prevent more suicides every day through the #BeThe1To campaign.

Suicide is complicated and tragic, but it is often preventable. Knowing the warning signs for suicide and how to get help can help save lives. Knowing the warning signs for suicide and how to get help can help save lives.

5 steps you can take to #BeThe1To help someone in emotional pain:

  • #BeThe1To ASK: “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” It’s not an easy question but studies show that asking at-risk individuals if they are suicidal does not increase suicides or suicidal thoughts.
  • #BeThe1To KEEP THEM SAFE: Reducing a suicidal person’s access to highly lethal items or places is an important part of suicide prevention. While this is not always easy, asking if the at-risk person has a plan and removing or disabling the lethal means can make a difference.
  • #BeThe1To BE THERE: Listen carefully and learn what the individual is thinking and feeling. Research suggests acknowledging and talking about suicide may in fact reduce rather than increase suicidal thoughts.
  • #BeThe1To HELP THEM CONNECT: Save the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s number in your phone so it’s there when you need it: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also help make a connection with a trusted individual like a family member, friend, spiritual advisor, or mental health professional.

#BeThe1To STAY CONNECTED: Staying in touch after a crisis or after being discharged from care can make a difference. Studies have shown the number of suicide deaths goes down when someone follows up with the at-risk person.

5 Action Steps to #BeThe1To Help Someone in Emotional Pain

5 action steps for helping someone