If you farm, it is very likely you deal with stress on a regular basis. If you farm in 2019, your farm stress level may be red-lining due to multiple factors making life more challenging than usual.
Low commodity prices, livestock health problems, crop yield, high interest rates, government regulations, large debt loads, disagreements from being in a family business and weather head the list of things that can put a major kink in a farmer’s day, according to Charles Schuster and Jeanette M. Jeffrey, with University of Maryland Extension.
Schuster and Jeffrey, who regularly address farm stress and mental health issues, recently addressed a session of the National Corn Growers Association Corn Congress in Washington, D.C., to raise awareness related to the high levels of anxiety in the countryside today.
The notable increase of stress on many farms means it’s a good time to recognize escalating stress in yourself and your friends, family and neighbors in the ag community. That’s because unaddressed issues can lead to health and addiction problems and even suicide.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recently examined 130 occupations and farmers had the highest rate of death due to stress-related conditions such as heart and artery disease, hypertension, ulcers and nervous disorders.
And while there is debate over the veracity of data related to farmer suicides, there is a good consensus that they are up significantly in the last few years. Meanwhile, calls to aid assistance and counseling hotlines have doubled in some cases.
“We need to build awareness in the ag community, to learn triggers, identify signs and learn ways to manage stress,” Schuster said. “What we need to do is encourage our farmers and their families to talk to each other about what is making them stressed out. Talking will engage them in getting help to take on the causes, and it may relieve some of the related symptoms.”
Signs and symptoms of chronic, prolonged stress include changes in routine, care of livestock/crop declines, increase in illness and farm accidents, the appearance of farmstead declines, as well as children may show signs as a reflection of their environment.
Managing stress and mental health on the farm is often complicated by inadequate medical infrastructure and mental health resources in rural areas, the stigma related to treatment, and the solitary nature of the work, Schuster and Jeffrey noted, but once a problem is identified there are things that can help.
Deep breathing, self-talk (injecting positive thinking into your internal monologue and showing yourself the same compassion, you show others), meditating, exercise, connect with people in a social network, and speaking with a mental health professional are all options.
Many state-based or even local services are available and easy to find through an internet search but a couple of national resources recommended include: Center for Rural Affairs and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-Talk (8255).