Farming can be a challenging profession, filled with unknowns. Add to that limited access to health care in rural areas and stigmas around mental illness, and it’s no surprise that farmers struggle with depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorders.
According to a 2019 rural stress poll by the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), the majority of farmers and farm workers feel their mental health is impacted by financial issues, farm or business problems, and fear of losing the farm. COVID-19 has further exacerbated these stresses, with two out of three farmers saying the pandemic has impacted their mental health, according to a report from the AFBF.
But there’s always hope. By learning about the risks and warning signs, farmers can take proactive steps toward improving their mental health. Below, you’ll find insights on why farmers are at risk, common mental health illnesses for farmers, tips for boosting farmers’ mental health, and resources for farmers who may need help.
Farms serve as both the bread basket and backbone of America. The country depends on farmers and farm workers to fill our plates and cups with fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, proteins, and dairy products. And, while farming is a critically important profession, it’s not an industry for the faint of heart. The terms “farm stress” and “farmer stress” are frequently used to refer to the many challenges that farmers face., Organizations like University of Maryland Extension and even the American Psychological Association have dedicated resources to address these stresses.
Farmers are often at the mercy of weather, crop disease, insects, fluctuating market prices, loan rates, and trade and tariff policies. According to the National Farmers Union's Farm Crisis Center, recent years have been especially challenging financially: between 2013 and 2016, net farm income decreased 50 percent, and it’s remained low since. The stresses from COVID-19, including limitations in the supply chain, restaurant closures, market unpredictability, challenges with paying workers, and safety issues have added even more strains to farmers’ already stressful lives.
And then there are the challenges of accessing treatment. When it comes to mental illness, rural residents agree that they face a number of obstacles to seeking help, according to the American Farm Bureau’s 2019 rural stress poll. Those include cost, embarrassment, and stigma. While 91 percent of those polled said that mental health is important to them or their family, three out of four also said that it’s important to reduce stigma around mental illness.
Farm stress can cause mental distress and contribute to a number of mental illnesses. Depression, anxiety, and substance abuse disorders are some of the common challenges farmers face. It’s important to note that signs and symptoms of distress can take many different forms for farmers, and may look different than they might manifest in a city or suburb.
If you notice signs of disrepair on the farm, an increase in accidents or illnesses among farmers and farm workers or absence from normal routines, such as attending church, it could be a sign that someone is suffering. Read on to learn about more signs and symptoms for common mental illnesses, and how to identify and address these issues.
Depression can manifest in different ways, depending on the person. It’s important to note that depression is more than just feeling sad for a day or two. Rather, it’s a lingering and disruptive sadness that lasts for at least two weeks.
If you, a loved one, or a colleague seem to be off, depression may be at play. Here are some of the symptoms to look out for:
If you or someone you love may be depressed, know that help is out there. Usually, depression is treated with therapy, medication or a combination of the two. In addition, some lifestyle changes can help reduce stress, which could help with depression.
If you are experiencing a mental health crisis, talk to your health care provider. If you’re in crisis, don’t hesitate to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for English or 1-888-628-9454 for Spanish. The Lifeline Crisis Chat or 911 are also safe options.
A little anxiety is normal from time to time. But if you’re experiencing anxiety that is so severe it interferes with your daily life, it could be something called generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD. The National Institute of Mental Health describes GAD as excessive anxiety or worry that someone experiences nearly every day for at least six months around their health, work, and social interactions and/or routines.
GAD has a number of symptoms, and a person who is suffering could experience any number of those symptoms, which include:
Anxiety, similar to depression, is treatable. The most common approaches to treatment are medication, therapy, or both. Talk to your health care provider about what’s best for your mental health.
Addiction and substance abuse disorders aren’t just an urban issue. In fact, in recent years, drug overdose deaths—which are the leading cause of injury deaths in the United States—rose higher in rural areas than in cities. When someone is addicted to drugs and/or alcohol, their reliance on the substance can interfere with work, school, relationships, and other aspects of life. It’s considered a mental health disorder.
Depending on the type of addiction, some signs of substance abuse may vary.
Signs and symptoms of alcohol use disorder may include:
Signs and symptoms of a drug addiction may include:
Therapy, medication, or a combination of the two are often used for substance abuse disorders. To find out what’s available in your community, talk to your health care provider or call the National Drug and Alcohol Treatment Referral Routing Service (1-800-662-HELP) or SAMHSA’s National Helpline 1-800-662-HELP (4357) and TTY 1-800-487-4889.
Curious about improving your mental health? Health care experts agree that there are a number of small, daily changes you can make that may help manage stress, improve your mood, and help you to feel better. Here are some places to start to improve your mental health:
There are many resources for farmers who are struggling with mental health challenges.
1. Take a mental health screen through the Mental Health America site. It's a quick, free and private way to assess mental health and recognize symptoms.
2. Talk with your own health care provider or your insurance provider about connecting with a therapist or counselor in your community.
3. Alternatively, with COVID-19, telehealth—which allows patients to connect with health care professionals virtually—has grown exponentially. With telehealth, you don’t have to have a specialist in your community; you can speak with one anywhere. If you have health insurance, find out what’s covered by your plan. If you’re uninsured, search for a federally qualified health center near you to see if they can help.
4. Farm Aid has a deep understanding of the stressors farmers experience. The nonprofit organization runs a hotline staffed with farm advocates, counselors and hotline operators who can help, or direct you to help. Call 1-800-FARM-AID or reach out to the Farmer Services team online for assistance.
5. Finally, the American Psychological Association dedicates a section of its website to Farmer Stress, and includes fact sheets on stress, tips on how to handle it and advice on finding a psychologist.
The contents of this article are for informational purposes only. Corteva makes no warranty, or other representation, express or implied as to the accuracy of any information contained herein and cannot assume responsibility or liability for reliance on or use of this information. Readers are encouraged to confirm the information contained herein with other sources or consult with a professional health care provider.