By Ray Atkinson @rayatkinson
Farmers and ranchers have some of the toughest jobs in America, facing an incredible amount of pressure, even on good days. With so many factors outside their control, including fluctuations in commodity prices and net farm income, supply chain issues, a lack of available labor and a global pandemic, it’s no wonder that stress plays a role in their physical and mental wellness. Farming is a stressful, often unpredictable business. It goes with the territory.
Stress is real. Everyone feels it. And farmers are no exception.
Farm Bureau has been working to encourage conversations about stress and mental health to help break the stigma that’s been prevalent in farming and rural communities for far too long. A recent American Farm Bureau survey revealed encouraging signs that this work is starting to show results.
In December 2021, AFBF commissioned a national Morning Consult poll to measure changes and trends in stigma around mental health, and comfort level in talking about stress and mental health with others. The poll, conducted among a national sample of 2,000 rural adults, showed that farmers and people in rural areas are more comfortable talking about stress and mental health challenges, and stigma around seeking help or treatment has decreased in rural and farm communities, but it's still a factor.
Responses to specific questions about stigma showed that there’s some good news. Over the past year, there was a decrease in the percentage of rural adults who say their friends/acquaintances and people in their local community attach stigma to seeking help or treatment for mental health. But a majority of rural adults and farmers/farmworkers say there is at least some stigma around stress and mental health in the agriculture community.
Nearly half of rural adults and two in five farmers/farm workers say they are more comfortable talking to their doctor about personal experiences with stress and mental health compared to a year ago. Four in five rural adults (83%) and 92% of farmers/farm workers say they would be comfortable talking about solutions with a friend or family member who is dealing with stress or a mental health condition. And, significantly, the percentage of farmers/farm workers who say they would be comfortable talking to friends and family members has increased 22% since April 2019.
The survey also found that a majority of rural adults and farmers/farm workers are experiencing more stress and mental health challenges than they were a year ago, while younger rural adults are more likely than older rural adults to say they are experiencing more stress and mental health challenges vs. a year ago.
The results of this poll are encouraging, and show that we’re moving in the right direction. But we all still have work to do.
The next time you get the feeling a friend or family member is under a lot of stress, or maybe something just seems off, take a moment to let them know you’re there for them. Be willing to lend a sympathetic ear and just listen. Sometimes all it takes to make a difference is to show someone you care. Talking about it is half the battle, and it’s amazing how much weight it can take off someone’s shoulders. It’s up to all of us to look out for our friends and neighbors and lend them a helping hand.
Visit the Farm State of Mind website at farmstateofmind.org for full results of the AFBF/Morning Consult poll, as well as information on helping someone in emotional pain, ways to start a conversation and resources for managing stress, anxiety or depression. You’ll also find crisis hotlines, treatment locators, and many other helpful resources.
Ray Atkinson is a director of communications at the American Farm Bureau Federation.