It is no secret that farming and ranching is a stressful occupation. With April being National Stress Awareness Month, we would like to bring awareness to stress in farming and ranching, how it impacts the farm and family, and how to get help.
Farmers and ranchers dedicate most of their time to caring for the well-being of their land, crops, and livestock. Unfortunately they do not devote the same care to their own physical and mental health.
Farmers, fisherman, and forestry workers have the highest suicide rate of any occupation at 85 per 100,000 individuals each year, in a 2016 study by the Center for Disease Control. With suicide rates at an all time high in the farming and ranching industry, it is imperative that the farming and ranching community make mental health a priority.
Farmers carry the burden of financial stress, herd health and disease, crop losses, budgeting, climate change, government policy, and long hours just to name a few. Farmers are also reluctant to seek help, which makes treating mental health in farmers and ranchers more difficult. There are a few key signs to look for in an over-stressed individual.
According to the University of Maine Extension, signs of stress in farmers and ranchers may include:
- Change in routines: Farmers or members of the farm family may change who attends a market, stop attending regular meetings or religious activities, drop out of 4-H or other groups, or fail to stop in at the local coffee shop or feed mill.
- Decline in the care of farm or domestic animals: Livestock may not be cared for in the usual way; they may lose condition, appear gaunt, or show signs of neglect or physical abuse. The farmer’s relationship with domestic pets may change: the animals may be less cared for, or the farmer may become more attached.
- Increase in illness: Farmers or farm family members may experience more upper respiratory illnesses (cold, flu) or other chronic conditions (aches, pains, persistent cough, migraines).
- Increase in farm accidents: The risk of farm accidents increases with fatigue or loss of ability to concentrate. Children may be at risk if there isn’t alternative child care.
- Decline in appearance of farmstead: The farm family no longer takes pride in the way farm buildings and grounds appear, or no longer takes the time to do maintenance work.
- Signs of stress in children: Farm children may act out, decline in academic performance, or be increasingly absent from school. They may also show signs of physical abuse or neglect, or become depressed. Adolescents may stay away from home, show signs of substance use/abuse, or become involved with the law.
- Decreased interest in activities: Farmers or farm families may be less willing to commit to future activities, sign up for gatherings, or show interest in community events.
If you or a family member is affected by prolonged stress, there are many ways to get help. Listening to the individual and seeking outside support to help manage stress on the farm or ranch is the best option.
Resources to Support Stressed Farmers & Ranchers & their Families
- 2-1-1 Texas. Dial “211” toll free at anytime to be connected with the services in your area. 2-1-1 Texas is a free, anonymous social service hotline available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
- Farm Aid Resource Network. Since 1985, Farm Aid has answered 1-800-FARM-AID to provide immediate and effective support services to farm families in crisis. Now Farm Aid’s online Farmer Resource Network connects farmers to an extensive network of organizations across the country that help farmers find the resources they need to access new markets, transition to more sustainable and profitable farming practices, and survive natural disasters.
- Texas Mental Health Crisis Hotline Directory.
- National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
- Agricultural Producers & Stress — When Do You Need a Counselor? By Randy Weigel, University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension Service.
- Mental Health and the Impact on Wellness for Farm Families (PDF).AgriSafe Network, Protecting People Who Feed America.
- The Personal Nature of Agriculture – Men Seeking Help By Randy Weigel, University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension Service.
Stress and Depression in Farm or Ranch Families (PDF). By Roger T. Williams, Extension Disaster Education Network
- Managing Stress During Tough Times. By R.J. Fetsch, Colorado State University Extension
- Safe Farm- Manage Stress to Increase Farm Safety. By Colleen Jolly, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.