How farming families can support their mental health

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This May, SIU Medicine's Farm Family Resource Initiative (FFRI) joins with the rest of the nation in honoring Mental Health Awareness Month. Join us as we discuss mental health and explore what farmers can do to improve their emotional and mental well-being. 

The impact of farming and agriculture on mental health 

Like all people, farmers are subject to universal human challenges that can have a negative impact on mental health, including financial problems, marital problems, poor health, stressful current events and the loss of loved ones. But farmers and their families also face stressors that are more unique to the farming culture, including:  

  • Weather
  • Natural disasters
  • Fluctuating market prices
  • Economic and trade policies
  • Unexpected equipment malfunctions
  • Tax and legal issues
  • Market saturation and competition
  • Concerns about finances
  • Neighbor disputes

Despite these challenges and their potential impact on farmers' emotional and mental health, many farmers don't seek help for their needs. This could be for several reasons.

Some individuals worry about the perceived stigma associated with mental health problems. They might believe that seeking therapy or asking for help is a sign of weakness, and that they should be able to "take care of it" themselves—just like farmers tend to take care of most other things on the farm.

Farmers also may feel that a therapist or counselor wouldn't be able to understand the unique challenges they face in their profession and lifestyle. And as many as 2 in 5 farmers have a hard time accessing a therapist or counselor within their local community, according to 2019 survey data from the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Lastly, a lack of awareness about mental health could also be a barrier to care, which is why knowing the common signs and symptoms of mental health problems is so important. 

10 signs of mental health problems

Negative emotions and periods of high stress can happen to anyone. But when one or more of the following signs and symptoms persist or cause concern, farmers and their loved ones should consider consulting with a mental health provider: 

  1. Excessive or prolonged feelings of sadness, worry, anger, irritability or fear
  2. Problems with concentrating, remembering things or "thinking straight" 
  3. Extreme or unusual changes in mood
  4. Withdrawing from social activities
  5. Difficulty related to others
  6. Unusual changes in sleeping or eating habits 
  7. Changes in sex drive 
  8. Thoughts of suicide or self-harm
  9. Increased or heavy use of alcohol or other substance
  10. Increased difficulty with tending to daily activities and tasks

Farmers dealing with unaddressed mental health problems may even experience persistent aches and pains that have no clear cause, including stomach aches, back pain and headaches. They may also complain of overwhelming fatigue and low levels of energy. 

It's important to know that certain underlying medical conditions can also explain or contribute to these symptoms. So, speak with a doctor if you have concerns about yourself or a loved one. 

Sowing the seeds of support

Unaddressed mental health problems in farmers can negatively impact not only their own well-being, but also the well-being of their family and business. To do your part and support yourself and your loved ones, here are a few things you can do:

  • Take steps toward alleviating farming-related stress (e.g., create a more organized system for bills and taxes, prioritize off-season prep work, hire help for certain tasks) 
  • Do your part to reduce stigma by learning and talking about mental health with your family
  • Set an example for your loved ones by seeking professional help if you think you need it

Here for farming families

At SIU Medicine's Farm Family Resource Initiative, our multidisciplinary team of clinicians and health care providers seek to offer local farming families a wide range of resources that can benefit their physical and mental health. If you or a loved one could use some support, contact the FFRI today at 618-713-0759 to learn more about the resources available to you. 

Karen Leavitt Stallman
Ag Resource Specialist

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