To say that 2020 has been stressful would be an understatement. We started the year with weather disasters, then followed that up with COVID-19 and now we are saddened to watch the social unrest that’s happening across our country.
For farmers and ranchers, volatility and difficulty are nothing new, but that doesn’t mean they don’t take their toll on us.
It’s important to acknowledge and talk about the stresses we’re facing. But it’s also important to recognize ways we can take control and make things better—to improve our farm state of mind.
One way to make things better is just talking about it. When I went on a radio show recently to talk about the loss of my wife, Bonnie, it was eye-opening to me how much it helped to do something we farmers and ranchers don’t often do—open up and talk about our feelings. It was like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. I had been carrying that weight on my own, but once I talked about my emotions it was as if all the listeners were helping me carry that weight.
My story is very different from the experience of someone else, but the common thread is the power of sharing our load. If you’re going through a difficult time, please reach out to a friend, your pastor, or a family member you can trust. Let someone help you carry your load. And if you’re that friend, pastor or family member who sees someone struggling or just not seeming like himself or herself, please offer to listen. Just listen and give that person that chance to unload some of the burden.
Some of us might feel we’re ill-equipped to help someone who is depressed or stressed, but anyone who is willing to help can do so. The American Farm Bureau is offering free training to any Farm Bureau member who wants to learn about how to get someone talking, the right questions to ask, and how to get more help for someone who may be in crisis. Developed by experts at Michigan State University Extension, this online training will give people the skills needed to spot the warning signs of stress and suicide, and how to communicate and connect farmers and ranchers with resources to help them. I hope you’ll check out our Rural Resilience Training and let others know about this free resource. We never know when we might be called on to help someone who is in trouble, so it’s good to be ready.
There are also a lot of tips and resources on the American Farm Bureau’s Farm State of Mind web page, such as signs of stress, conversation starters and links to more resources, including the national suicide prevention hotline.
As with many issues, there are plenty of resources out there, but we just need to make it a priority. Resources don’t do any good unless we believe using them is important. Folks, rural stress is a real and growing problem, and addressing it is important. As many of us or our friends, family and neighbors go through a tough time, let’s not push this aside and say, “It will pass,” “Just get over it,” or “That’s not my problem.” That’s not how mental health works. This challenge is just as important as anything else that affects the health of our farms and ranches and our families. So let’s deal with it head-on by talking about it, learning about it and sharing our load.
These are strange and troubling days—no doubt about it. We don’t have control over prices, weather, global politics or pandemics. But we do have control over how we react and respond. Let’s talk about it and equip ourselves with the knowledge to do whatever is in our power and help each other get through these stressful times.
Vincent “Zippy” Duvall, a poultry, cattle and hay producer from Greene County, Georgia, is the 12th president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.