Ninety-one percent of farmers in a recent survey say financial issues are affecting farmers’ mental health. Fear of losing the farm is almost as bad, with 87 percent citing this as a concern. These are the findings of a survey of rural adults, farmers and farmworkers for a recent Morning Consult poll. The poll was sponsored by American Farm Bureau Federation in recognition of May as Mental Health Month.
While financial issues are most impactful, farmers’ mental health is also affected by isolation, weather, the economy and general stress. Forty-eight percent of respondents said they are personally feeling more stress and mental health challenges today than they were a year ago. This increase is even more pronounced among young people. For those ages 35-44, in what should be the prime of their careers, 57 percent said they were experiencing more stress and mental health challenges than a year ago.
Farming is a tough business. Recent years have brought consistently low prices, droughts, floods, trade wars and any number of other problems making it even tougher. It’s times like these that people need help and support more than ever. But many farmers choose not to reach out to friends, family or mental health professionals.
One of the biggest reasons farmers often don’t reach out is the social stigma surrounding mental health care. Many also fear it could cause embarrassment to them or their family. In fact, nearly two-thirds of survey respondents listed stigma and embarrassment as obstacles to seeking treatment.
On the positive side, most rural adults do seem to recognize a need to reduce this stigma so people who need help can get it. Seventy-five percent of those surveyed said it is important to reduce stigma about mental health in the agriculture community. Perhaps this recognition of the need to reduce the stigma surrounding farmers’ mental health can be the first step toward actually changing it.
When people in rural areas do decide to seek help, they often encounter challenges finding the right resources. Twenty-eight percent of those surveyed said it would be difficult to access a therapist or treatment for drug and alcohol addiction in their local area. Add to this the fact that 70 percent say the cost of care would be an obstacle to seeking treatment and it’s understandable why so many do not reach out.
Free and easily-accessible resources do exist to help anyone in crisis. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-TALK (8255), and it is free and available 24 hours per day. If speaking to someone seems too embarrassing or difficult, you can also text HOME to 741741 for help. Perhaps most importantly, if you know someone who needs help, reach out and offer a hand. Sometimes a caring friend is all it takes.
Eric Bohl is Director of Public Affairs for Missouri Farm Bureau, the state’s largest farm organization.