Mississippi’s farmers, ranchers and rural communities have faced innumerable hardships in the last two years, including flooding, trade wars and low commodity prices, creating a push behind the issue of mental health on the farm and in rural areas.

Unfortunately, the already rising number of challenges these farmers and rural communities have experienced are expected to increase during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, making it even more important to have mental health resources available, according to Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation President Mike McCormick.

“Our farmers and rural communities have been thrown a curve ball with COVID-19,” McCormick said. “This is sure to put our farmers and rural communities in more financial stress than they are already experiencing. The increased social isolation, ordered by President Trump and the CDC, is also not helpful in encouraging these Mississippians to seek help for mental health problems.”

A 2019 AFBF survey shows that an overwhelming majority of farmers and farmworkers say financial issues, farm or business problems and fear of losing their farm negatively affects their mental health. In addition, 48% of rural adults said they are personally experiencing more mental health challenges than they were a year ago. Nearly one in three farmers does not feel comfortable talking to friends or family members about solutions for a mental health condition.

“That farmer still has the same equipment payment,” said Michael Ted Evans, a Kemper County poultry farmer. “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, especially with so many uncertainties now evolving in the world.

“As a third-generation farmer, I’m familiar with the stress of farm life, and I’ve heard heartbreaking stories as I’ve traveled the country about warning signs missed and loved ones lost,” AFBF President Zippy Duvall said. ““We have to really pay attention, not only to all our farmers, but especially those young farmers who are totally stressed and have not had the opportunity to experience this before.”

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

Gaydon Nowell serves as a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner for the Community Health Center Association, 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,” Nowell said. “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.”

Family members and friends should be on the lookout for these mental health-warning signs, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • 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 addition to local resources, AFBF and Bayer recently announced the transition of Bayer’s Farm State of Mind campaign, an initiative to raise mental health awareness among the farming community, to Farm Bureau. The campaign aims to reduce stigma surrounding the topic of mental health in rural communities and to provide relevant information to farm families on this important topic. Farm Bureau plans to combine the Farm State of Mind assets with those of its ongoing Rural Resilience campaign, expanding the reach and effectiveness of its rural mental health initiatives.

Complicating this issue is that many farmers are reluctant to talk about the effects of stress or seek help. The Farm State of Mind initiative provides farmers with resources, encourages conversations and reduces the stigma surrounding the issue of mental health. The combination of the awareness campaigns is expected to be completed by April 2020.

“Despite everything our farmers are facing, I know they will keep pushing forward,” McCormick said. “For many, the feel their duty is to continue farming so they can provide the food, fiber and shelter the rest of the world needs to overcome COVID-19. I just want to make sure our farmers and rural communities know the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation is behind them and willing to help in any way possible.”

Find more information about COVID-19 here. Find more information on the Community Health Center Association of Mississippi’s resources here. Find more information on Farm State of Mind here. Find more information on Rural Resilience here.