By Kolt Buchenroth
The stagnant commodity prices, an ongoing trade war, and the uncertainty of tariffs impacting the farm economy are reason enough to induce plenty of stress in a farmer’s life. Add in the unprecedented rainfall most of the Buckeye State has seen this spring, rising input costs, and market volatility and Ohio’s agriculture community is facing a perfect storm for developing high levels of farm stress.
Ohio State University Family and Consumer Science Extension Educator Jami Delllifield is advocating around the state and the country for the mental health of the agriculture community. She has taken note of the heightened farm stress situation this growing season.
“We can’t control this. There is absolutely nothing right now that is within anyone’s control. Everything is just coming at us and it just seems to keep building. Plus, farmers are at an increased risk because their profession is isolated. They spend all day and night alone in a tractor with their thoughts,” Delliefield said.
But, the idea of farm stress can be rooted much deeper than a single growing season or bad crop.
“Farmers are wired to protect their land. We will do whatever it takes to protect what is ours. That includes our legacy,” Delliefield said. “There is a feeling of not only letting your family down, but letting down dad, grandpa, and the past generations of the farm.”
While farmers are worrying about planting and doing field work, they also have to be worried about the operations of the rest of their farm.
“The other piece that sets agriculture apart is for most of us, the companies we work for provide our facilities and equipment. It’s not our responsibility to keep the lights on and pay the rent. For a farmer, that isn’t the case. If the electric bill gets paid, if the crops go in, if the soils aren’t ideal, it’s all personal and it all adds stress,” Dellifield said.
She continued to say that it can be challenging for those not engaged in agriculture to help producers when they don’t understand that legacy piece. Friends, neighbors, and spouses are the best eyes and ears to know if something could be wrong. Dellifield has some advice of signs to watch for as you visit the coffee shop in the morning or church on Sunday.
“The first thing you want to look at is ‘are people showing up?’ This is a fight or flight response and people may come out with guns blazing, or they may be isolated,” she said. “It is perfectly okay to say ‘Today isn’t a good day. I’m feeling a little stressed.’ When one person starts talking about it, it’s likely someone else going through the same hardships will talk about it. Then, there is a community to come together and support one another.”
Family members can also look for changes in drinking habits.
“Another thing to watch for is someone who used to have a single alcoholic beverage with dinner now having two or three, or other increased drinking habits. Or, they might just not seem like themselves,” Dellifield said.
When it comes to managing stress and specific to agriculture, there are resources available.
“Think of a time when you overcame something that seemed insurmountable and hold onto that. Then, surround yourself with people that will help pull you through.” Dellifield said.
Prior to her start in Extension four years ago, Dellifield had a background in psychology. Dellifield is on a multi-state team that works with the North Central Regional Center for Rural Development from the Farm Service Agency.
“We facilitate trainings for county level FSA employees on what to do so they can help producers when they come in. That way, if they are seeing signs and symptoms, they know how they can help,” Dellifield said.
Dellifield serves on a team that partners Extension with Ohio State’s College of Public Health. The group has just been awarded a grant to bring Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training to the rural parts of Ohio.
“Just like we need first aid and CPR if someone has a heart attack right in front of us, we need to know how to have conversations and identify signs and symptoms,” Dellifield said. “We are compiling resources for anyone that lives in the state of Ohio — from doctors to producers and veterinarians to seed salesmen.”
Those resources will be available by the end of the year. More information on MHFA and becoming trained is available at mentalhealthfirstaid.org. Several other Extension resources are available by typing farm stress into an internet search engine. If you or someone you know is thinking of hurting themselves, the national suicide prevention lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. Individuals can also text the word “home” to 741741. Veterans can send a text to 838255 to be connected with specialized resources. As always, in emergency situations, dial 9-1-1.