For the last several years, farmers have faced flooding, lower commodity prices, trade tariffs, and many other unforeseen challenges, making it difficult for them to make a living. Due to the rising number of challenges farmers are facing, the growing concern on the farm and in rural areas surrounds mental health.

American Farm Bureau Federation recently sponsored a national poll to discover more about the state of people’s mental health on the farm and in rural America. The poll found financial issues, farm or business problems and the fear of losing the farm impact farmers’ mental health the most.

“That farmer still has the same equipment payment,” Michael Ted Evans, a Kemper County poultry farmer, says. “He still has the same land payment. He still has the same feed payment for all his cattle. All the payments are the same, but the prices of grain have gone down.  That financial stress is very hard on farmers.”

In his 21 years as a farmer, Evans has raised poultry and cattle, as well as farmed row crops. He believes the mental stress of farming can be tougher on farmers than the physical stress.

“When I get out of bed every morning at 4 o’clock, my mind immediately starts thinking about what I am going to find when I get to the poultry farm,” Evans says. “I start wondering, are my chickens fed like they’re supposed to be? Is my water on? Are all my fans running? Those questions are constantly running through my mind all day long.”

There are options for farmers and rural Mississippians needing help. The Community Health Center Association of Mississippi has 21 locations across the state.

Community health centers are community-based organizations that provide comprehensive primary care and preventative care, including health, oral, and mental health to persons of all ages, regardless of their ability to pay or their health insurance status. The mission of these centers is to enhance primary care services in under-served urban and rural communities.

Community Health Center Association of Mississippi Chief Executive Officer Janice Sherman says the centers have recently seen more patients regarding mental health.

“We have seen an uptick in mental health visits of about 10 percent in our population base over the past year,” Sherman says. “Some of that is substance use over all. The largest case load we see is depression. We screen for depression symptoms related to chronic illnesses and farm injuries.”

Gaydon Nowell serves as a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner for East Central Mississippi Health Care, and travels between multiple centers helping patients. She says the stigma surrounding mental health still keeps people from seeking help. This decision can have detrimental impacts on the lives of Mississippians.

“Unfortunately, depression is seen as something a person can just get over, but a lot of times, that’s not the case. They need treatment, just like any kind of medical problem.  Nobody sits around and waits until they get over their diabetes. They go and seek help. Seeking help for mental health care is just as important.”

Nowell also says family members and friends should look for these mental health warning signs.

  • Excessive worrying or fear
  • Feeling excessively sad or lot
  • Confused thinking or problems concentrating and learning
  • Extreme mood changes, including uncontrollable “highs”
  • Prolonged or strong feelings of irritability or anger
  • Avoiding friends and social activities
  • Changes in sleeping habits or feeling tired and low energy
  • Changes in eating habits such as increased hunger or lack of appetite
  • Abuse of substances like alcohol or drugs
  • Multiple physical ailments without obvious causes (such as headaches, stomach aches, vague and ongoing “aches and pains”)
  • Thinking about suicide
  • Inability to carry out daily activities or handle daily problems and stress

In the farming community, financial issues, fear of losing the farm and limited access to mental health services in rural areas often have a negative impact on mental health, Nowell says. These issues result in an increased risk of stress, depression, anxiety, substance abuse and suicide.

Evans offers this advice for farmers who are on the fence about whether to take the next step and schedule a visit with their local health care professional.

“There’s a clinic in your area, wherever you live, that you can go to and they could actually to talk to you and get you some type of help to make your life better,” he says. “There’s no need to live life being miserable.”

For more information about mental health services, visit chcams.org.