As mental health awareness grows and organizations seek to reduce stigma, one historically overlooked group is getting more attention. Recent months have seen a growing number of farmers and other agricultural industry workers seeking help for mental and behavioral health issues.
Farming carries mental health risk factors
It’s no surprise that agriculture has long been a high-stress line of work. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, farming is among the top 10 occupations that are at risk of higher suicide rates.
Factors that contribute to farmers’ stress include:
Fluctuating market prices
Diseases that affect crops or herds
Tariffs and other regulations
Many rural, agricultural communities also lack the resources to address farmers’ needs, creating additional challenges. The Department of Health and Human Services reported that 53.34 percent of rural areas had a shortage of mental health professionals.
Agricultural work traditionally comes with an attitude of self-sufficiency and a more stoic approach to adversity. As a result, many farmers suffer from mental and behavioral health struggles in silence.
Despite this attitude, a new national poll of rural residents found that 82 percent of farm workers reported that mental health is important to them and/or their family. Among farmers, 66 percent said it was important to reduce stigma about mental health in the agriculture community.
Awareness is growing and stigma is falling
Many states and organizations are working to address the increased demand for mental health services among farmers. Growing awareness of mental health has been encouraging more farmers to seek help for anxiety, depression, and other concerns.
The North Carolina Agromedicine Institute has begun to offer training for dealing with extreme farm stress, as well as teaching people about warning signs of suicide or depression. The institute is also seeking mental health clinicians and other resources to address the unique nature of farming. For example, many medications for depression and anxiety may not be suitable for individuals who work with heavy machinery.
The South Dakota Farm and Ranch Stress Summit in September, held by the South Dakota State University Extension Rural Behavioral Health Team and the South Dakota Counselors Association, gathered farmers and health specialists to discuss stress in rural settings. Organizers noted that more agricultural producers are speaking up about their stress and other mental health needs.
Technology could improve farmers’ health access
Several technology-based resources can help serve agricultural communities that otherwise lack mental health resources. Avera Health launched a free, confidential, 24-hour Farm and Rural Stress Hotline in January. On Twitter, many farmers open up about their burdens and encourage each other under the #AgTwitter hashtag.
Telehealth resources and mobile apps could also help expand behavioral health access and close treatment gaps in rural communities. SilverCloud, a digital platform provided by OSF Healthcare, is becoming popular with farmers within the OSF network to help them cope with mental health challenges.
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