By Macey Mueller, USCP Board Director


I am not one to wish away time, but August is the one month of the year I just have to pray to “get through.” It is a taxing time for our family for many reasons compounded by the stress of early mornings shipping cattle, late nights in the field or the office, extreme weather conditions affecting production (cattle, crop and personal) and the sinking feeling that there is far more to get done than the hours in the day will allow. 

The dog days of summer often leave me physically, mentally and emotionally drained, and I know I’m not alone. Seasonal and chronic stress and anxiety are all too common in an industry highly dependent on factors outside our control – volatile weather conditions, fluctuating commodity markets, dubious government policies and increasing debt burdens all lead to financial instability and the added mental burden of carrying on a multi-generational family legacy. My husband and I are believers in the power of prayer and try hard to lay life’s burdens – especially those we can’t control – at the Lord’s feet, but there are times those thoughts of worry and uncertainty linger and lead to deeper mental distress. 

According to a five-year University of Illinois – Urbana study, nearly a quarter of the farm parents surveyed met the criteria for mild depression and moderate depression and 11.5% met the criteria for moderately severe depression. Furthermore, nearly a third of adult participants in the sample met the criteria for mild Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and 18.9% and 4.9% met the criteria for moderate and severe GAD, respectively. 

Unfortunately, the mental health of U.S. farmers and ranchers has been overlooked and almost taboo for many years. As inherently proud and often private people, seeking help for mental health issues has been seen as a sign of weakness and has prevented many producers from reaching out for support. A recent poll by the American Farm Bureau Federation showed the stigma around seeking help or treatment for mental health has decreased but is still a factor in agriculture. While farmers and farm workers indicate an 11 percent decrease in stigma attached to those who seek help for mental health, 63 percent say there is still at least some stigma around stress and mental health in the agriculture community.

In an effort to further reduce this stigma and address the growing rural mental health crisis, many agricultural organizations, universities and mental health advocacy groups have initiated programs to provide mental health education, crisis hotlines and support services specifically tailored to farmers. Below are just a few resources compiled by Kansas Farm Bureau to help farmers and ranchers dealing with depression, stress, addictions and other mental/behavioral health concerns:

Mental/Behavioral health videos
Mental/Behavioral Health Webinars 
 Mental/Behavioral Health Podcasts
Identifying Mental Health Distress

Oftentimes, signs of mental struggle are overlooked by family, friends and neighbors. According to NY FarmNet, the more signs of stress you or a farm family member is exhibiting, the greater the need for additional help and support. Many of these are signs and symptoms of fatigue and stress, but when there are multiple signs, they should be taken seriously. 

  • Appearance: Sad face, slow movements, unkempt appearance, lack of facial expression 
  • Anxiety and/or depression
  • Unhappy feelings
  • Withdrawal or isolation
  • Negative thoughts: “I’m a failure,” or “I’m no good”
  • Helpless and hopeless: Sense of complete powerlessness, sense that no one cares.
  • Reduced activity: Absence of planning, increased sleeping, feeling that “doing anything is just too much”
  • Substance abuse 
  • People problems: Lack of interest in being social (“I don’t want anyone to see me.”) 
  • Previous suicide attempts
  • Physical problems: Sleeping problems, decreased appetite, various physical ailments from aches and pains to severe muscle tension or chronic pain
  • Suicidal plan: Frequent or constant thoughts of a specific suicide plan
  • Guilt and low self-esteem: “It’s all my fault,” or “I should be punished”
  • Cries for help: Making a will, giving away possessions, making statements such as “I’m calling it quits” or “Maybe my family would be better off without me”
Coping with Stress

Recently, I have started to identify potentially stressful times of the year and attempt to “head them off at the pass” with some strategic planning and built-in personal time to decompress. Being organized seems to alleviate some of my mental burden and helps me feel more in control of my wellbeing. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also suggests these healthy ways to deal with stress:

  • Take breaks from watching, reading or listening to news stories
  • Take care of yourself and your body
  • Make time to unwind
  • Connect with your community – or faith-based organizations
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol
  • Recognize when you need more help

George Washington once said “Agriculture is the most healthful, most useful and most noble employment of man,” and I think it’s safe to say he got two out of three right. Unfortunately, the stress that comes with the job many of us love can sometimes take its toll on our health and lead to mental and emotional distress, substance abuse, anxiety, depression and even suicide. Caring for our own health and wellness in this high-stress profession can be easy to overlook but is just as important as caring for our farm business.

September is National Suicide Prevention Month and a time to shine a light on mental health issues in our country. Specifically, September 17-23 is National Farm Safety and Health Week, which encompasses “brain health” and aims to promote overall wellness as a key to keeping producers safe on their operations.

If you would like to learn more about recognizing the signs and symptoms of stress and suicide, ways to effectively communicate with people under stress and how to reduce stigma related to mental health concerns, the Rural Resilience Open Online Course equips farmers, their families and the agricultural community with tools and resources to help in time of need.

Moreover, if you are a farmer in crisis, or know of someone in need of immediate assistance, contact a local treatment resource or call the National Suicide Prevention Line at 988.