Guest opinion: Mental health is important for America’s farmers

Ron Gibson 01

During Agricultural Safety Awareness Week (March 1-7), Utah Farm Bureau encourages everyone to end the stigma around mental health. Recent studies have shown stress and depressive symptoms are prevalent in the agricultural community, with as many as 35% of farmers and ranchers experiencing symptoms of depression.

Data also suggests that the rate of suicide among farmers and ranchers is higher than that of the general population. However, most mental health conditions are treatable and early involvement by friends and family can lead to recovery.

Recovery starts with conversation, and discussions about mental health don’t have to be tricky. Starting a conversation by simply asking “How are you doing today?” or “How have you been feeling lately?” could be the invitation a loved one has been waiting for.

Once you have opened a dialogue, be ready to listen and offer support. Withhold judgement and try to avoid making the conversation about yourself. Be prepared to offer resources, such as a referral to a primary care physician or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255 (TALK)).

An important step in reducing the stigma around mental health conditions is to know the signs of a mental health crisis, particularly in the rural community (adapted from Robin Tutor-Marcom, North Carolina Agromedicine Institute).

• Decline in care of crops, animals or farm

• Increasing life insurance

• Increase in farm accidents

• Giving away prized possessions, calling or saying goodbye

• Increase in physical complaints or difficulty sleeping

• Feeling trapped or like there is “no way out”

• Making statements such as “I have nothing to live for,” or “My family would be better off without me; I don’t want to be a burden.”

No one is ever too young or old to struggle with the impact of stress and mental health issues, and no one has to endure the struggle alone. Nearly 1 in 3 rural Americans reports having sought out care for a mental health condition. Times are tough in rural America, but if the agricultural community comes together to have the hard conversations about things that might make us uncomfortable, we can end the stigma around mental health.