Stressing Mental health

Resources tailored to farmers’ needs are available.

• By Amanda Huber •

rural stressSoldiers returning from the Gulf War and Afghanistan during the past two decades brought a new group of words to our lexicon: post-traumatic stress disorder. More recently, there has been a dramatic increase in suicides from first responders. In the past few years, with rock-bottom crop prices and after the devastation of Hurricane Michael, the topic of rural stress has also come into view.

Rural Stress In Focus

University of Georgia Extension peanut specialist Scott Monfort and other members of the peanut team are making special mention of this topic in production meetings this spring.

“We know your job is one of the toughest and most stressful jobs out there,” he says. “Unfortunately, in the past few years, we have lost some good farmers, and it is likely partly due to stress.

“The University of Georgia is making new resources available through the Extension service,” Monfort says. “UGA wants to be here for you in every aspect of farming, not just production.”

So Much Out Of Your Control

In a survey of farmers attending the Georgia Farm Bureau 2019 annual convention, UGA School of Social Work professor Anna Scheyett sought to better understand farmer stress. Although the data was collected informally and 118 surveys were completed with more women answering than men, Scheyett found that stress is high among farmers in Georgia.

Getting information on stress and suicide to farming communities is critically important. She also found that ensuring the information is provided in ways that are acceptable and accessible is crucial.

According to the survey, the top five stressors were weather at 71.93%; finances, 33.33%; commodity prices and sales, 28.95%; farm operating costs, 27.19% and government: legislation, regulations and aid, 19.30%.

Reaching Out

Scheyett also found that providing education through social media, newsletters and magazines would be an easy and effective form of outreach. Additionally, building on the trusted relationships farming communities have with their local Extension offices and providing classes at these familiar locations could be an effective information dissemination strategy.

“Farming is the only profession I can think of where you can do everything right and work 24/7 and make all the best decisions and have all the best equipment and still go bankrupt,” Scheyett says. “There’s so much out of your control.”

Although rural life is often portrayed as a slow-paced, idyllic lifestyle, farmers, and, by extension, their communities, face daily adversity and challenges. A lack of resources in small towns only adds to the feeling of isolation, as do the unique challenges faced by producers. As this crisis in farm country comes into focus, more help is being made available.