Even in good times, farmers face a unique set of challenges when it comes to rural stress and mental health. Some of this is due to a lack of mental health services in rural communities.
Today, the U.S. farm economy is in crisis due to low commodity prices compounded in some areas by adverse weather. Consequently, some farmers are under intense stress, facing serious financial issues and may fear losing the family farm. This can lead to feelings of isolation, so we must remind them that they are not alone.
Major stressors for farm families include but are not limited to:
- Farming has been in a recession since 2013 while the rest of the economy has been growing. Net farm income has declined 50 percent over that time
- The ups and downs of the trade war have added to uncertainty about the future
- Farm bankruptcies are on the rise
These feelings of stress and isolation can lead to depression, substance abuse and suicide.
Signs of mental health crisis include:
- Isolation from others
- Decline in care of crops, animals and the farm in general
- Deterioration of personal appearance
- Withdrawing from social events, family and friends
- Change in mood or routine
- Increase in farm accidents
- Increase in substance abuse
- Feeling anxious or worried
- Emotional outbursts
- Problems sleeping
- Dramatic changes in weight or appetite
- Feelings of failure
- Talk of being better off dead or thoughts of suicide
Many of us have gone through difficult experiences with friends and family members. Farmers are hard-wired to protect their sometimes-multi-generational farmland and when something threatens that, it can cause a crisis. The American Farm Bureau surveyed farmers and found that 91% believe that financial stress or fear of losing the family farm impacts mental health.
If you’re feeling trapped, get help. It is not a sign of weakness to seek help in dealing with farm and other stresses of life. Talking to a minister, pastor or church leader can be good because sometimes faith is the best hope to hold on to. You can also make an appointment with your primary care physician to talk about getting help and to allow for the elimination of medical problems as the primary source of the change in mood as well as an opportunity for the consideration of treatment with medication, counseling or both. It is usually best to accompany a person to the appointment in order to ensure the physician gets an accurate account of their condition. Often, family members or friends have a clearer awareness of the changes than the distressed person has.
Also, people often are more open to talking with a trusted friend about their problems than they are to discussing them with family members. We were created to live in community—the very worst thing is to not talk to anyone.
When someone you love is struggling with stress, depression, or suicidal thoughts, they may think their feelings are too much to burden someone else with and keep to themselves. When you ask directly about their mental health and intentions, you are telling them it is not too much and that you care about them. Asking a person if they are contemplating suicide has not been shown to cause the person to consider suicide if they weren’t already. And if someone is already considering suicide, asking them about their thoughts about taking their life has not been shown to make the person more likely to make an attempt. Talk to them privately and summarize why you are concerned about them, but don’t promise secrecy.
Take seriously jokes or hints about suicide or the belief that everyone would be better off without them, and take special note if they seem to be tying up loose ends or giving away personal items. It is advisable to remove guns, knives or other potentially lethal items from the home as well as to limit the availability of medications and other substances that could be abused as well as to monitor their use. Should a person appear to be imminently dangerous to self, call 911 or take them to an emergency room as soon as possible.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. The call is free and confidential, and they will connect the caller to a counselor in their area.
The Crisis Text Line also is available. Text HOME to 741741 to be connected to a trained counselor 24/7.
The Farm Aid Farmer Hotline is 1-800-327-6243. Staff will answer calls Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. To 5:00 p.m. Eastern time.
It’s true that the current state of the farm economy and the unique stresses that come with living in a rural area are difficult. However, farmers and their families are known for creativity and finding ways to weather the storms of life. It’s often true that it’s darkest right before the dawn.
It is important to remember that things will get better with time:
- Although current conditions are dim, a growing world will need American farmers for food and fiber
- The world will add billions of new people over the next few years that need food and clothing
- Analysis by Cotton Inc. predicts that cotton consumption could grow globally by more than 20% by 2030. Southwest U.S. cotton farmers are in the best position to meet that demand.
You’re not alone. It is imperative to avoid self-blame for things that are beyond your control. There are very few farm families that have not been affected by the recession in agriculture. We would all do well to remember that we are loved and highly valued by family and friends.
We’re all in this together. Check on your friends and neighbors during these difficult times.