Mental health and farmers
Farmers go to great lengths to take care of their land and livestock, but sometimes we’re not great at taking care of ourselves.
Our first instincts are to protect our operations at any cost, often by working alone for long hours. Unpredictable stressors such as weather, crop yields, high labor and energy costs, skyrocketing land prices and low income build over time, weighing you down day after day.
When things get tough, it’s hard to ask for help.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, which presents an opportunity to share our story and the tools available for helping farmers cope with stress, anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts or substance abuse.
In January, the American Farm Bureau Federation unveiled results of a survey of 1,600 Georgian farmers about farm stressors in the state. The survey, conducted in partnership with the Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center, housed in Mercer University School Development, found that:
Twenty nine percent of farmers report suicidal thoughts at least once every month.
Forty two percent of all farmers have thought about dying by suicide at least once in the past 12 months.
Forty seven percent of farmers report experiencing loneliness at least once per month.
Forty nine percent of farmers report being sad or depressed at least once per month.
Thirty nine percent of farmers report feeling hopeless at least once per month.
Of those surveyed, the top stressors reported were balancing home and work life, weather and finances, and common coping strategies included drinking alcohol, exercising and engaging in a hobby.
The results of this survey are staggering, but there are several mental health resources and wellness tools farmers can use to reduce stress and manage their mental health.
In Illinois, the Farm Family Resource Initiative (FFRI) is a free helpline connecting farmers across the state with mental health specialists. The service is managed by Southern Illinois University School of Medicine’s Center for Rural Health and Social Service Development and averages a handful of calls per month on a range of issues, including financial stresses, conflict and relationship troubles on the farm.
Follow-up telehealth counseling sessions with SIU Medicine counselors are also offered to those using the resource. Up to six individual, couple or group sessions are available for free to the farmer or farm family member.
FFRI also offers free monthly virtual suicide bereavement group sessions, which is overseen by a licensed clinical social worker and behavior health program supervisor with SIU Medicine’s Department of Family and Community Medicine. For more information or to register, call 217-757-8115 or email program supervisor Bonnie Landwehr at [email protected].
Other tools farmers can use to manage stressors and mental health include developing strong social networks and relationships. Taking 15 minutes each day for an uninterrupted conversation with a spouse or family member and getting involved or staying connected with a friend or group of friends can provide a lifeline when things are tough.
Farmers should also take note of how their body reacts to stress, which is often out of their control. Instead of focusing on things you cannot change, try working toward a solution. This goes hand in hand with nurturing yourself and finding ways to keep your mind and body connected. Exercising 20 minutes or taking a daily walk, swim or bike ride, getting regular medical checkups with a local health care provider, eating a nutritious diet, spending time outside, getting plenty of rest, and finding hobbies or other activities that you enjoy can all help to reduce stress.
Establishing goals can also help navigate stressful situations and plan for increased periods of work. Spending 10 minutes of your day prioritizing tasks can help you stay on top of your work. However, don’t let discussions of farm operation needs occupy all aspects of your life. When you find yourself overwhelmed, try stepping away to assess the problem and brainstorm possible solutions that help break it down into manageable steps.
A productive mind is a healthy mind. Finding 5-10 minutes in your day to relax and recharge, sharing your concerns with a counselor or another professional and using helpful self-talk (telling yourself that you can adapt and overcome any challenge) can help reframe your way of thinking.
These strategies are just a few coping mechanisms farmers can incorporate into their daily life to help manage stress. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you or a loved one is experiencing a crisis, visit your local emergency department or call 911.
Other resources include:
Farm Family Resource Initiative Helpline: 1-833-FarmSOS or 1-833-327-6767; serves farm families in Illinois.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Crisis Text Line: Text TALK to 741-741; text with a trained counselor from the Crisis Text Line for free, 24/7.
For more information on farmer mental health and wellness resources, visit www.ilfb.org.
Richard Guebert Jr. is the president of the Illinois Farm Bureau. This story was distributed through a cooperative project between Illinois Farm Bureau and the Illinois Press Association. For more food and farming news, visit FarmWeekNow.com.