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Farming can plant seeds of emotional distress

Staff writer

Land, property, and crops aren’t the only things that can be devastated by wildfires, drought, tornadoes, and floods.

Those events can devastate lives, finances, and mental health, and farmers are especially vulnerable.

In the immediate aftermath of a natural disaster, people commonly feel guilt, disbelief, grief, anxiety, and shock. Left unchecked, those feelings can become a barrier to carrying out normal daily functions.

Lingering mental trauma after a natural disaster can take years to overcome.

Some are resilient enough to bounce back fairly quickly, but others develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which makes recovery far more difficult.

Symptoms of PTSD include decreased interest in things the person once enjoyed; flashbacks; difficulty sleeping; nightmares; feeling on edge; avoidance of people, things, and the location associated with the event; and difficulty remembering parts or even the entire event.

Self-care techniques that might help after a disaster include making sure basic needs for the family, such as food and shelter, are met; taking time to grieve; spending time with loved ones; helping others; and seeking professional help to be able to cope now and in the future.

Farmers’ livelihoods are affected by many factors beyond their control, such as the market price of crops and the price of pesticides, fertilizer, and equipment.

It can be hard to seek help when stress overwhelms a farmer.

“It takes an incredible amount of courage to seek help,” licensed clinical therapist Bryant Miller said. “Reluctance is a normal experience and can be a challenge to overcome.

“Many aspects of farming or ag work are independent and self-guided. It’s important to avoid that shame trap — the belief that asking for help is a sign of weakness and that you should just ‘tough it out.’

“Just as machinery requires regular maintenance and service to continue to operate smoothly and prevent breakdowns, working with a professional can assist in maintaining overall well-being, developing coping strategies and preventing crises.”

Miller cited research indicating that mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression are consistently more prevalent among farmers than the general population.

“A variety of factors provide added stressors to those in the ag sector, such as personal finances, interpersonal relationships, farm succession, unpredictable environmental conditions, economics, and fluctuating commodity prices, to name several,” Miller said. “As these stressors build to chronic stress, they can impact many mental health outcomes around anxiety, depression, and substance use.”

According to a Farm Bureau Federation report, about two in five rural adults say stress and mental health have become more of a problem in their communities over the last five years.

Nearly half say they personally are facing more mental health challenges. Of them, younger adults are more likely to say they are experiencing such challenges.

According to data from Kansas Department of Health and Environment, male workers in farm, forestry, and fishing had the highest suicide rate in comparison to other occupations — 147.5 per 100,000 workers.

A recent study from Centers for Disease Control found that male agricultural managers had a suicide rate more than 50% higher than that of all surveyed occupations, Miller said, and farmers have increased risk of heart disease caused in part by chronic stress and hardships from the job.

National Public Radio reports that farmer suicide has become worrisome enough that some states are training veterinarians, bankers, and agribusiness professionals to be a front line of defense against agricultural stress.

Last modified May 1, 2024

 

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