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Nurturing farmer well-being and mental health

Nurturing farmer well-being and mental health

By Andi Anderson

In farming communities across the U.S., the mental health crisis is becoming increasingly visible. Farmers, often isolated and dealing with the stresses of their demanding lifestyle, are experiencing high rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide.

Recognizing this, professionals and communities are coming together to offer support and solutions.

Family therapist David Brown from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach explains, "Farmers endure a variety of stressors, including unpredictable weather, volatile market prices, and intense physical demands. The expectation to uphold a family legacy adds an immense burden, often making failure feel catastrophic."

This sentiment is echoed in the community, where many feel misunderstood by those outside the agricultural sector.

Tina Recker, a mental health therapist, notes that farming is not just a job but an identity for many, making any setback feel like a personal failure.

Most farmers are middle-aged or older men, a demographic already at higher risk for suicide.

Edwin Lewis, a USDA administrator, adds that the farming culture, which values self-sufficiency, often prevents individuals from seeking help, and limited access to mental health services in rural areas further complicates the issue.

In response, the USDA’s Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network allocates $10 million annually to fund counseling hotlines, support groups, and other resources.

Jason Haglund, a mental health advocate and part-time farmer, hosts an Iowa podcast to discuss these issues openly.

He stresses the importance of overcoming stigma, saying, "We need to recognize that while farming is often driven by emotional ties to heritage, it may not always be financially sound."

Haglund also addresses the accessibility of firearms in rural areas, suggesting that therapists or friends might encourage those showing signs of depression to temporarily remove firearms from their homes.

Mental health professionals are encouraged to adapt their approaches to fit the farming lifestyle, such as offering flexible scheduling and initiating non-intrusive conversations.

Mental health first aid programs are recommended to help the community identify and support those struggling.

As these initiatives take root, there is hope that more farmers will seek and continue with necessary therapy, fostering a supportive environment where mental health is prioritized alongside physical health.

Photo Credit: gettyimages-ben-goode

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