Do you ever feel stressed? Do you ever worry about finances? Now more than ever, stress and mental health are consuming people and industries in our nation, one industry being agriculture. Mental health is a growing concern in rural areas as farmers cope with stress and uncertainty due to economic and environmental conditions. Although, there are organizations and actions that have been made to aid in farmer mental health such as the Wisconsin Farm Center, the Farmers First Act and social media platforms. However, there is still so much more to be done. There remains a stigma around mental health and seeking treatment. But we can all help in some way whether it’s big or small. Reach out to your neighbors and check in on one another. Learn about ways you could help someone struggling with stress and mental illnesses.
Mental health is a growing concern in rural areas as farmers cope with stress and uncertainty due to economic and environmental conditions. There are also financial barriers and stigmas surrounding mental health. Mike Rosmann, a psychologist based in Iowa who works in rural communities, said factors such as economic stress and stigmas surrounding treatments put farmers particularly at risk of depression and suicide (Vinopal, 2018). In addition, rural communities tend to have limited access to health and mental healthcare services (Rural Health Information Hub, 2019). In many cases, clinics or hospitals are miles away from the farm and designating time out of your busy schedule for an appointment is hard to do.
However, U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin’s bipartisan reform, in 2018, has provided our nation’s farmers with critical support and mental health resources which was included in the final 2018 Farm Bill (U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, 2018). Wisconsin Senator Baldwin and Iowa Senator, Joni Ernst, introduced Farmers First; an act to provide funding for local mental health resources and expand access to stress reduction strategies and suicide prevention programs for people who work in agriculture (U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, 2018).
One-way professionals are finding ways to reach out and assist farmers, is through farmer focus groups. In February 2021, The Farm Center at the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection partnered with the UW-Madison Extension Service, held two Farmer Focus Group sessions. Theses focus groups aimed to provide education, resources and support to farmers, agriculture service professionals and mental health care providers to mitigate farm stress and reduce suicide risk in rural communities.
In addition to farmer focus groups, agriculturalists are finding a way to support one another through social media platforms. One popular platform is the hashtag, “#AgTwitter,” which is a community becoming increasingly popular in recent years among farmers and others connected to the agriculture industry (Vinopal, 2018). Farmers often take to #AgTwitter to encourage one another to seek help with stress in their day-to-day jobs and offer tips on how to cope with depression (Vinopal, 2018).
However, recognizing symptoms of mental illnesses is not always easy. In a 2019 online article from the American Farm Bureau Federation, by agriculture journalists, Julie Murphree and Liz Foster, there are clear signals to identify potential mental health situations for farmers and ranchers. Some of these signals include a decline in care of crops, animals and farm, deterioration of personal appearance, withdrawing from social events, family, and friends, increase in farm accidents and the list continues (Murphree & Foster, 2019). Reaching out, creating support groups, social media communities, providing therapy, having patience, and understanding are all ways and methods to assist farmers and family farms facing mental illnesses.
If you are feeling anxious, depressed, or just need someone to talk to, call the 24/7 Wisconsin Farmer Wellness Hotline at 1-888-901-2558 or visit the Wisconsin Farm Center website https://datcp.wi.gov/Pages/Growing_WI/FarmCenterOverview.aspxc.