The climate’s effect on a farmer's mental health
Weather has always had a direct and important impact on the farming industry. But when the weather becomes wilder and changes in climate threaten to undermine a family farm's ability to stay in operation, the usual risks and stresses associated with farming can become even more pronounced.
Climate change will affect farming communities, and hence have an impact on the mental health of farmers. How can these communities best support each other during these unpredictable times?
Weather and well-being
As people who work outdoors, farmers have an increased risk of health problems related to extreme weather events, including:
- Sunburns and skin cancer
- Accidental drowning
- Illness related to water pollution, mold or smoke
- Slips, trips and falls
- Respiratory problems, including asthma
Climate change is causing more extreme weather that can negatively affect a farmer's livelihood. Droughts, fires, floods, blizzards, severe hail, high winds and tornados create costly setbacks such as crop loss and severe equipment damage. But beyond the physical and economic impacts, extreme weather can also take a heavy toll on a farmer's mental health and heighten stress and anxiety.
These mental health issues are often compounded by additional factors. For instance, the farming culture tends to champion a DIY attitude. The archtypical farmer has a stoic and self-sufficient approach to life, and is therefore less likely to seek help for mental health problems. Many farmers also live in rural areas with reduced access to mental health services. Farmers might find that cost is a barrier to mental health services, or worry that mental health providers are unable to relate to and therefore benefit them.
Worried about climate? Take action with these simple strategies
It's understandable why farmers and their families experience so much stress and anxiety over climate-related factors. Here are a few things you can do to minimize this anxiety and gain greater peace of mind, even when so much about the weather remains out of your control.
- Explore and update your insurance policies. Talk to a trusted advisor and stay well-informed about your coverage options. If necessary, consider reviewing and revising your budget to help cover your insurance premiums.
- Explore other options. Many farmers are starting to feel called to alternative and more sustainable agricultural practices, including regenerative farming, rotating crops, cover crops, integrated pest management to minimize the use of chemical pesticides, solar panels and more. Incorporating sustainable practices into your farming operations may help the environment and may even help you become more competitive in your market, given rising consumer interest in sustainable agriculture.
- Make your presence known in your community. Buying and consuming locally grown and raised food helps cut back on food transportation costs, greenhouse gas emissions, and fossil fuel utilization. If you don't already, consider collaborating with your local representatives and fellow farmers to create local food distribution channels, such as farmer's markets or community supported agriculture (CSA) programs.
- Practice more sustainable habits in your home and business. Reduce food waste, cut back on water, get involved in local or national organizations that support farmers and farmland conservation, and when possible invest in more energy-efficient farming equipment and home appliances.
- Develop healthy coping strategies. Feeling occasionally stressed or anxious is normal. Prepare yourself for these moments by developing healthy coping strategies, such as deep breathing, walking or talking with a trusted friend or health care provider. Seek help for any underlying medical conditions, as these can negatively affect your mental health as well.
You can’t change the weather. You CAN change you.
At SIU Medicine, our staff is sensitive to the unique challenges faced by local farmers. We encourage local farming families to reach out for support.
If you're having a hard time managing the stress and anxiety you feel about weather-related challenges facing your farm, contact the Farm Family Resource Initiative today at 618-713-0759 to connect with people who can help.
Karen Leavitt Stallman
Ag Resource Specialist