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Farmer mental health comes to the forefront as pressing rural need


“You are not alone.”

It’s a mental health message that everyone agrees needs to reach more of those in the agricultural community — not just the farmers, but also people such as bankers and veterinarians.

But, unfortunately, data showing anxiety and depression rates (as well as more extreme circumstances, such as suicide) are hard to come by, and most of what we know about these issues has to be gleaned anecdotally. At the 2019 Ag Media Summit, many of the nation’s best communicators were told during a workshop about this need and were given insight into how the results of these stress levels can further damage an already wounded industry.

The workshop addressing mental health began with this poignant video:

It continued with a discussion from four panelists: Ted Matthews, of the Minnesota Rural Mental Health Department; Dr. Josie Rudolphi, formerly with the Marshfield Clinic Research Institute’s National Farm Medicine Center; Brenda Rudolph, a dairy farmer and blogger; and Holly Spangler, with Farm Progress.

A major issue, the group said, was that farmers (particularly male farmers) often don’t talk about what’s bothering them. Isolation on the farm is real. A sense of duty to the legacy of the farm — a piece of property that was often farmed and maintained for multiple generations prior — is significant. And many of the key issues that add stress to an agriculturalist are outside of his or her control. Couple that with a growing role of women in production and farm management roles and the frequent differences in how men and women (and, thusly, couples) respond to stress, we are witnessing an ag community that is boiling with a crisis that had long simmered in relative secret. 

But to be sure, it’s not a new phenomena. The workshop spoke of how stress has long been associated with agriculture, but again, just less discussed and less addressed, especially by news organizations. And platforms such as social media appear to do little to advance people’s desire to seek help or find relief from their struggles.

There is a sense that, even though our regions are extremely rural, we need to be aware of our neighbors. Something as simple as a conversation can help point someone’s outlook on life in the right direction. It takes listening and understanding to make those kinds of changes happen. 

While the need for mental health should not be confused as being the same as mentally ill, it’s important for farmers and those associated with agriculture to know that they can take steps to seek help no matter their level of stress or depression or anxiety.

Though based in Minnesota, Matthews, who is an expert on helping farmers deal with mental health concerns, offered anyone to call him up if they need help. He can be contacted through his organization’s website at


Ryan Tipps is the managing editor for AGDAILY. He has covered farming since 2011, and his writing has been honored by state- and national-level agricultural organizations.

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