by Deb Dalton, Information Specialist, NYCAMH
In recent months, there has been a lot of talk in the media about farmers and mental health.
Take a look at some recent offerings:
- A recent webinar aired online, titled: Communicating With Farmers Under Stress, hosted by The North Central Region – Rural Support Network Team.
- A piece from Radio Iowa, November 2017: “Expert says psychological stress on farmers often overlooked.”(www.radioiowa.com)
- A research publication: Suicide among agricultural, forestry, and fishery workers: a systematic literature review and meta-analysis. Scand J Work Environ Health. 2018;44(1):3-15.
- A December 2017 article in Successful Farming: “Calming the Storm”; farmers and ranchers need to find a way to manage the stress in their lives before it takes a toll on their mental and physical health. (Prater, Lisa)
- “Rough Ride” / Salena Zito. New York Post Dec. 17, 2017
- A December 2017 article in The Guardian: “Why are America’s farmers killing themselves in record numbers?”
LaMar Grafft, Associate Director of the North Carolina Agromedicine Institute, had this personal take on the Guardian article listed above:
“While I have never seriously contemplated suicide, even during the 80s when we lost the farm, I certainly understand the despair and feelings of failure discussed in the article, because I felt/feel them. Even though I love my life, my family and friends, it is difficult not to think ‘what could have been’. I would never go back to farming, and entertain no notions of [the] same, but ‘what if’ looms high along with ‘I was the 6th generation and lost the farm’.
It is an extremely tough occupation that relied for so many years, generations really, on hard work and grit, but has turned more into a tactical nightmare of savvy and luck as much as anything. I didn’t have that… Bottom line is, there are no easy fixes and likely never will be.”
Looking at suicide rates by industry, CDC reports that persons working in the farming, fishing, and forestry group had the highest rate of suicide overall. (Suicide Rates by Occupational Group — 17 States, 2012, CDC). As these articles and publications indicate, life is not always a bountiful feast for the folks who put food and drink on our tables and it is about time we paid attention to the challenges that are often faced by producers. Perhaps the greatest stress factor? – the lack of control over events and situations that can make or break a farmer’s world.
Salena Zito calls attention to one man’s attempt to help. Jerry Menn, a farmer himself, works full time at the Neighborhood Family Clinic in Wisconsin, and does all he can to ensure that those suffering from depression get counseling. Menn admits that most people acknowledge that farming is difficult, but not all understand “the depth of the lows that can hit at any one time.” Admitting that you might need mental help is one step: getting to a counselor a huge second step.
How can other organizations, friends and family members help, and try to staunch this downward spiral? What can we do?
- Recognizing signs of depression or suicidal thoughts is a first step. If you detect any of the symptoms listed below in yourself or someone you are close to, seeking professional help should be considered and encouraged.
Signs of depression:
- Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.
- Loss of interest in daily activities
- Appetite or weight changes.
- Sleep changes.
- Anger or irritability
- Loss of energy.
- Reckless behavior, including substance abuse.
- Concentration problems.
- Unexplained aches and pains.
- Talk such as “they would be better off without me” or other negative self-talk.
Any or all of these signs should be taken very seriously. To respond, call to get help from a doctor or if the situation is dire contact the nearest emergency room.
Other sources of help include: