Letter to the Editor: Poll shows impacts of rural economy on farmers’ mental health

A strong majority of farmers and farm workers say financial issues, farm or business problems and fear of losing the farm impact their mental health, according to a new national research poll by Morning Consult. Other factors farmers deal with include stress, weather, the economy, isolation and social stigma.

Sponsored by the American Farm Bureau Federation in recognition of May as Mental Health Month, the poll surveyed more than 2,000 rural adults and farmers/farmworkers to better understand factors affecting the mental health of farmers, availability of resources, perceptions of stigma, personal experiences with mental health challenges and other relevant issues.

Richard Wilkins

AFBF President Zippy Duvall said, “We all know how stressful farm life can be, and things are even tougher now because of the farm economy. More of us are affected, ei-ther directly or by having a friend or family member in distress. This poll proves what we already knew anecdotally: Rural America is hurting not just economically but also emotionally. Even as the rest of the economy has boomed, farmers and ranchers are in year six of a widespread commodity-price slump. We can and must do more to address farmer stress and mental health issues in rural America.”

As members of Delaware Farm Bureau can tell you, “farming is a high-stress occupation. Financial risk, volatile markets, unpredictable weather and heavy workloads can all place a significant strain on the mental and emotional well-being of farmers, ranchers and farmworkers. This is exacerbated by the fact that 60 percent of rural residents live in areas that suffer from mental health professional shortages.”

Three in four rural adults surveyed said it’s important to reduce stigma about mental health in the agriculture community. A majority agreed that cost, social stigma and embarrassment would make it harder for them to seek help or treatment for mental health conditions.

Highlighting the need for awareness and training, the survey showed that farmers and farmworkers are less likely than rural adults in general to be confident that they would be able to spot the warning signs of a mental health condition.

AFBF was one of 39 national ag groups that signed onto a letter sent May 1 to leadership of the Senate and House agriculture appropriations subcommittees urging Con-gress to fund $10 million for the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network, the level authorized in the 2018 farm bill.

FRSAN provides grants for Extension services, state departments of agriculture, nonprofit organizations and other entities to provide stress assistance programs to those in agriculture-related occupations. Eligible programs include farm helplines and web-sites, training programs and workshops, outreach services, and home delivery of assistance.

Congress provided $2 million in the fiscal year 2019 appropriations bill for a pilot of the FRSAN program. We hope the pilot program will lead to full program implemen-tation.

Fully funding the FRSAN program at $10 million will be critically important in meet-ing the needs of farmers and ranchers as they endure increasing financial and mental stress.

Richard Wilkins
Delaware Farm Bureau

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