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Handling Stress in Farm Communities

Ashley Robinson Agri-business, General, Top Posts

By Ashley Robinson

American farmers have demanding jobs that are often compounded by economic uncertainty, vulnerability to weather events and feelings of isolation. While they are notorious for tackling challenges, the rising suicide rate of farmers indicates they need support in addressing stress and depression.

Results from an American Farm Bureau Federation poll in 2019 show that 91 percent of farmers and farm workers have financial issues that affect their mental health, and 87 percent of farmers are afraid they’ll lose their farms. The poll also reveals that fewer than 20 percent of rural adults know how to access a therapist or counselor in their community.

With limited medical presence in most rural communities, it can be difficult for farmers to receive support when they are experiencing extreme and prolonged stress, depression, anxiety or other mental health issues. By keeping an open eye for the warning signs of stress and practicing active listening, you may be able to help avert a graver situation.

During the 2020 Southeast Regional Fruit and Vegetable Conference, Adam Kantrovich, Extension associate professor of agribusiness at Clemson University, hosted a seminar on how to effectively handle stress in farm communities. During his presentation, he offered an action plan for stress-related times in the farming community.

WARNING SIGNS TO WATCH FOR

According to Kantrovich, there are a number of indicators that can be identified to determine if someone is experiencing any of these mental health issues. “One of the first indicators that others will notice is that these people become withdrawn,” he said.

When experiencing chronic, prolonged stress, these individuals may withdraw themselves from organizations that they are involved in, such as churches, Farm Bureau, 4-H, FFA, etc. Other indicating factors that people may be dealing with stress or depression are an increase in illness, a decline in the appearance or care of their farmstead, change in routine or an increase in farm-related accidents.

Those having thoughts of suicide may display any of the following warning signs:

  • Talking or writing about suicide or death
  • Feeling hopeless, trapped, or like a burden
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Making a plan, acquiring means
  • Saying goodbyes
  • Isolation from others
  • Loss of interest
  • Mood changes
WHAT TO DO

When dealing with chronic stress and depression, it is important to know that you are not alone. Thankfully, there are many methods that have proven to help deal with these issues.

Although it may seem simple, deep breathing and meditation exercises are great ways to handle stress. Taking the time to relax and calm the body helps lower stress. In addition, exercising, connecting with people in your social network, and speaking with your doctor or other mental health professionals can be helpful.

If someone you know is experiencing any of the signs that they may be under stress, it is important to know how to best approach them.

“In the farming community, we are typically very independent and don’t talk about our issues,” says Kantrovich. “It’s very important that this becomes part of our natural discussion.”

When approaching someone who is under chronic stress, practice empathy and active listening. Often, when we hear about someone else’s difficult situation, we feel compassion or pity for them, and we let them know by offering our sympathy. However, in this situation, it is best to offer empathy by making a sincere effort to understand what they are going through. If you are asked for assistance or you offer to provide assistance, it is important to not promise what you cannot do.

According to Kantrovich, active listening is one of the most useful forms of help. It requires using your ears and eyes while encouraging the person you are interacting with to reveal more about their thoughts and feelings. The goal of active listening is to create an open and honest dialogue.

If you believe that an individual may be having thoughts of suicide, ask directly if he or she has thoughts of suicide. Asking directly does notincrease risk of suicide and may provide the person with relief that someone sees their struggle. Offending the farmer is less a concern than the potentially fatal consequences of not acting.

RESOURCES ARE AVAILABLE

People often don’t seek the help they need simply because they don’t know where to begin. If you or someone you know are dealing with thoughts of depression or suicide, talk to your primary care physician and ask about available mental health services. If you don’t have a doctor, there are other resources and services available.

If the situation is potentially life-threatening, get immediate emergency assistance by dialing 911. National suicide prevention resources include:

The following farm stress management resources are also available:

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