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Managing Mental Health in Agriculture





May is mental health awareness month! Even though as a culture we are talking more and more about mental health, it is still very much a taboo topic in our rural agriculture communities. If you are like us, our stereotypical minds believe that farmers are brick walls, very tough and unbothered by everything. In recent years, much research has found that in reality, the farming and agricultural community is one of the most highly impacted professions from a low mental health standpoint. 


After a lot of reflection on the subject, many aspects of farming can lead to poor mental health as an industry. One major trait of farming is that we don’t have complete control over what we get paid for our products. The market as a whole is the one that sets our price (unless you sell directly to the consumer). This uncertainty is highly stress-inducing for farmers because some years they will sell their products for a profit and in others they will break even or lose some money. A unique example of this hits home with walnut farmers. Before 2018 farmers were receiving $3/pound for their walnut crop. Over the last several years the price has been dropping and in 2023 the average price farmers were getting for their walnuts was $0.15/lb. If you want to read more in detail about this here is a link from a walnut farmers blog https://dirtandskyfarm.com/2023/07/25/the-crash-of-the-walnut-market/ . 


The weather is another huge mental health stressor for farmers and the outcome is completely out of our control. Drought, natural disasters like hurricanes and tornadoes, hail, and too much rain could cause major issues in a year for farmers. In our recent memory, all the farmers around us and agriculture professionals still reference the drought of 2012 and how big of an impact this stressor had on farmers for years following. Weather induces a tremendous amount of anxiety for farmers daily and we are constantly pivoting our plans because of it. 


Crop diseases and animal sickness also take a toll on farmers' mental health. We use preventative measures to aid in our crop/animal health; however, new issues arise from time to time. In recent years, poultry farmers have been on high alert for avian influenza and cattle farmers have been dealing with a tick-borne illness that has reached our area. These unforeseen stressors add to the daily tasks filling their days. 


In addition to uncontrollable mental health stressors on the farm, many work together with family members. This adds a layer to farming that can be complicated. Imagine a work drama that you cannot leave at work and it follows you to the family supper table. We would be misrepresenting farmers' mental health stressors if we did not mention the complexity of the farming family dynamic. This, however, is a much larger topic for a different blog post. 


With the continued rain downpours the last few weeks, our farmers' anxiety and mental health have been put to work. This time of year is very important because we are preparing and planting for another season. The prime window of opportunity is relatively short for farmers to complete their work. The constant rain delays have been testing our patience and altering our growing plans. So, while we are working through another rain delay, we thought we would share some of the ways that might help nourish your mental health.


First, there are a few small things that might help to calm our mind when feeling anxious. Distracting our mind for a short time by listening to an audiobook, a podcast, or music can be helpful. Venturing into the new world of a book while doing our everyday tasks will soften the anxiety we feel. Then, when you are more calm and removed from the problem, it might be easier to work through. Sometimes, though, the anxiety is too overwhelming. When that is the case any form of breathing exercise to slow down your heart rate and brain has many benefits. In addition to different breathing exercises, performing math problems in our head can ease the anxiety as well (20-7, 6x20, 8+4). Also, finding an off-farm hobby can help manage stress. Hunting, golfing, baking, painting, etc. are great outlets for farm stress. They get you away from the farm and allow you to take some space.


 Finally, it might be helpful to find someone to talk to whether it is a friend, neighbor, family, or someone on social media that understands what you are going through.  Talking usually does not solve many of our problems, but it lets us know that we are not alone in our feelings. Oftentimes this is the hardest for farmers because we often work alone and think it is unhelpful to share our troubles, but a listening ear can do wonders. Working through our daily struggles is constant and finding ways to cope and manage them is extremely valuable. We have included some extra resources you may find helpful to understanding mental health in agriculture. We hope and pray everyone has a successful farming season and look forward to talking in our next blog!


Love, Olivia, Tabby, Gina, and Kendra



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