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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mental Health and Farmers-Guest Post



 May is Mental Health Awareness Month.  Farmers have one high stress job.  I have a very good friend that not only grew up on a farm, but she now is a farmer's wife.  She works for our area mental health clinic and today she shares some startling statistics about farmers.  Please read this one!!

Farming and agricultural jobs are considered to be one of the most dangerous jobs in the United States.  This danger is not just about getting hurt in the field!  Did you know that the suicide rate of agricultural workers is between two and three times greater than the national average?

Being a farm daughter, wife, and Mom who also works as a mental health professional for a Community Mental Health Center, I find this statistic especially alarming.  Equally alarming is the fact that the mental health of agricultural workers and their families represents one of the most neglected areas of research and service provision.

When looking at the national average for suicide completion rates, non-farm males make approximately five suicide attempts, while farm males make only three.  For women, those not involved in farming make twenty five attempts to the farm woman’s three.  Most of you can probably give the name of a farmer that you know who took his or her own life.

Why is this happening?  The environment that a farmer works in is very conducive to stress, which if not handled appropriately, can lead to more severe mental health issues.  As I type this, it is May 3, and it snowed yesterday.  The weather is beyond anyone’s control.  Farmers are often one freeze/rain/windstorm, etc. away from a total crop failure, no matter how hard the farmer worked.  


Many people involved in agricultural professions are aging.  In 2007, the average age of the principal farm operator in the US was 57.  As people age, they find themselves unable to do some of the physical labor that they once could.  This creates challenges in any profession, especially on the farm.

Also, if you think about many of the farmers you know, they have one hobby and this is farming.  Farming is often more than a profession; it is a way of life.  What happens when that person is no longer physically able to work on the farm.  I will often hear my Dad say of others, “When he can’t farm anymore, he will die”.  This statement is true on many levels.  

Mental Health Matters
Agricultural professions often tend to be solitary professions.  Most farmers don’t spend much time talking with others about their feelings.  Any signs of sadness or anxiety can be perceived  as weakness in the eyes of the farmer, and as we all know, farmers are not people who want to be seen as weak.

Access to health care is another issue in rural areas.  In many parts of the country, your nearest mental health center is farther away than your nearest hospital.  Top that off with the stigma surrounding mental health treatment.  Very few people getting mental health services are clinically “insane”, but popular culture fails to recognize this.  Many farmers also lack health insurance coverage that will reimburse for mental health services.  Medicare and commercial insurances to cover some services, however the copay for these services can be difficult to pay, especially when finances are already tight.

So, what can you do about this?   

Often, people show many signs of suicide before acting.  These signs include:   

  • talk of harming one’s self,  
  •  expressions of feeling hopeless, 
  • saying things like “everybody would be better off without me”, 
  • sudden need to tie up loose ends, and 
  • contacting friends and relatives to say goodbye.  
 It is important to recognize these signs in the farmers you know.

Most importantly, though, be sure to have conversations about mental health matters with your loved ones!  Often times, this is what encourages someone to get help for themselves!  If you are worried about them, have them call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or refer them to you local Community Mental Health Center.  Mental health treatment works! 
From a fellow Kansas Farm Mom to you, don’t let your favorite agricultural worker suffer!

Thank you so much to Kelly for sharing this with everyone!  Please use her advice and help those that need it.  If you need help, call and get help it will not be seen as a sign of weakness.  It takes a strong person to admit when they need help.

Don't believe her that farmers only know how to farm?  See what we do when we aren't in the fields here, here and here

Check out another farm families story of dealing with depression at Cow Spots and Tales here.




This is the second post I have done that could truly save a life.  Please share with you friends and check out my post of HELLP Syndrome.
- A Kansas Farm Mom