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Farming, often romanticized as a peaceful and idyllic way of life, is a profession that demands much more than most city-dwellers realize. The challenges faced by farmers extend far beyond the fields. Mental health among farmers has become a grave concern, with stress, isolation, financial pressures, and unpredictable weather conditions taking a toll on their health and well-being.

A Silent Struggle

Farmers work tirelessly as the backbone of our society, yet their own well-being is often overlooked. In fact, the rate of suicide is three and a half times higher than the general population. The farming lifestyle is inherently demanding, with long hours, financial instability, and a social disconnect of rural living contributing to higher levels of stress and anxiety.

“There is still very much a personal mental health stigma in agriculture,” says Thad Shunkwiler, Director of the Center for Rural Behavioral Health at Minnesota State University, Mankato. “While we’ve made great strides in mental health awareness over the years, you’ll find that many individuals encourage loved ones to seek help, yet still resist help for their own emotional wellbeing.”

The Impact on Mental Health

The cumulative effect of these challenges can lead to a range of mental health issues among farmers, including depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and even suicide. Farmers tend to value self-sufficiency and hard work, so when negative emotions creep up, they may think to themselves “I just need to pull myself up and get over this. I’ll work harder and maybe things will get better”

It’s easy to dismiss negative emotions as just part of life. But there are signs in ourselves and our loved ones that we can be aware of to help identify when it’s more than just a stressful day. The Center for Rural Behavioral Health gives us some signs that we can watch for to identify mental health or substance abuse struggles among those in our life who may be struggling.

Recognizing concerning behavior surrounding mental health

  • Feeling consistently sad or down
  • Excessive fears or worries, or extreme feelings of guilt
  • Inability to cope with daily problems or stress
  • Trouble understanding and relating to situations and to people

Recognizing concerning behavior surrounding substance abuse

  • Bloodshot eyes, pupils larger or smaller than usual
  • Changes in appetite, sleep patterns, physical appearance
  • Unusual smells on breath, body, or clothing, or impaired coordination
  • Irritability
  • Unpredictable responses

Recognizing concerning behavior surrounding suicide

  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself

Breaking the stigma

Addressing mental health concerns within the agriculture community is a complex issue, and it starts with breaking the stigma surrounding mental health. Community outreach, education, and support are crucial in making farmers feel comfortable seeking help when needed. Initiatives like rural mental health resources, mental health awareness campaigns, and crisis hotlines can provide a lifeline for those in need.

Basic intervention skills can save lives

Basic intervention skills can play a crucial role in helping loved ones recognize mental illness and seek the necessary support. Firstly, active listening is paramount. Create a safe and non-judgmental space where your loved one can express their thoughts and feelings openly. Encourage them to share their experiences, and validate their emotions without offering immediate solutions or minimizing their struggles.

Encourage your loved one to seek professional help and provide them with information about available resources and treatment options. Additionally, emphasize the importance of self-care, and offer your support in their journey towards support and treatment. Remember that patience and empathy are vital throughout this process, as individuals struggling with mental illness may need time to accept their condition and make the decision to seek help.

Resources in Minnesota

Minnesota Farm & Rural Helpline

Phone: (833) 600 2670
Text: FARMSTRESS to 898211

Minnesota Agricultural Mental Health Specialists

Ted Matthews: (320) 266-2390
Monica McConkey: (218) 280-7785

Resources in South Dakota

South Dakota Department of Social Services

988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline: Call, text, or chat 988

The mental health of farmers is a pressing concern that deserves our attention and support. By addressing the root causes of mental health challenges, breaking down the stigma surrounding mental health, and providing resources and support, we can help farmers’ well-being. It's time to recognize that a healthy rural community is essential for a healthy society.

The Blue Cross® and Blue Shield® of Minnesota Center for Rural Behavioral Health at Minnesota State University, Mankato is dedicated to improving access to behavioral healthcare for residents in outstate Minnesota to include recognized Reservations/Settlements through research, workforce development, continuing education and customized training.

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