Unpredictable Nature of Farming Can Lead to Worry
The weather tested the patience of farmers across the country this spring. Now, farmers may find themselves staring out their back window at empty fields where they usually find a field of corn as far as the eye can see. They’re fully aware they signed up for a lifestyle of extensive hours and gambling with market prices, but not many realized the toll it would take on them and their loved ones – both physically and mentally.
A 2016 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated that farmers, foresters and fishermen have the highest suicide rate of all populations. And, there are an array of reasons farmers are pushed to their breaking point.
“We know that farmers die by suicide five times more than the general population, and that they are also at risk for experiencing depression, anxiety and substance use concerns,” said Dr. Greta Hochstetler Mayer, CEO of Mental Health & Recovery Board of Clark, Greene & Madison Counties and a native of Holmes County.
Mayer also noted the highstress nature of the job can lead to mental health concerns and how important it is to check up on oneself and try to build relationships despite the solitary nature of the occupation. Due to the long hours and rural locations, it can be difficult to find the time and resources to get help. The Department of Health and Human Services reported in a 2018 study that 53.34 percent of rural areas have a shortage of mental health professionals. It is normal for anyone to have off days where they aren’t feeling their best. However, if you notice symptoms of anxiety or depression are interfering with daily life, it may be time to seek help. The earlier these signs are detected, the more effective the treatment will be. According to Mayer, it is important for farmers and loved ones to look for these common signs of anxiety and depression:
Depression: Lack of interest in social activities, loss of enthusiasm for things you used to enjoy, increased irritability or anger, changes in appetite or sleep habits and difficulty concentrating.
Anxiety can lead to both physical and emotional symptoms. Some signs might include: excessive worrying, a need for perfection, constant fears about safety of self or others, trouble sleeping or relaxing, stomach or headaches, a pounding heart rate, profuse sweating or fatigue.*
*These symptoms do not necessarily mean you are experiencing depression or anxiety, but they do indicate that it may be time to see a professional.
The unpredictable nature of farming can often lead to farmers worrying about the future or dwelling on the past. Mayer encourages farmers to practice mindfulness. “It is a wellknown coping strategy for anxiety, because it can help alleviate the pressure that some individuals feel when they are uncertain. The ever-changing economic climate, and political landscape affects the farming profession in a unique way,” Mayer said.
It is important for farmers, or anyone, to reach out for help if they’re suffering from anxiety and/ or depression, even though it may be hard to take the first step. Mayer acknowledges the self-reliant nature farmers may make them hesitant to reach out for help.
“We need to spread the message that mental health is not unique from physical health,” she says.
The new Senate Bill 2712, also known as the Farmers First Act, will provide grants to state departments of agriculture, state cooperative extension services, and nonprofit organizations for cooperative programs to establish farm and ranch stress assistance networks. This is designed to give farmers in rural communities access to proper mental health care. Mayer ensures that local Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Boards are working with their local communities to make the most of these funds.
It is important to take action if you or a loved one are experiencing stressors on your mental health.
Advice for getting help from Dr. Greta Mayer
We always encourage individuals to call 911 if it is an emergency, like when a person is threatening suicide or may be overdosing. In the instance that an individual is having thoughts of suicide, we encourage them to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. The lifeline is free, confidential, and offers help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Those who prefer texting also can text “4hope” to 741741 for the same type of support via text message.
If someone needs help with farming specific questions, they can call the Farm Aid Hotline at 800-327-6243. Staff is available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
We also suggest calling your local Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) Board, which can help connect you with quality local resources and service providers and help problem-solve if you face issues like lack of transportation, access, or ability to pay for services. You can find information about your county’s board at www.oacbha.org/mappage.php