Farming can be stressful, even on the best days. Last March when COVID-19 hit, farmers and ranchers got a big load of stress on top of all the issues in farming we are already used to dealing with. Few of us thought back then that we’d still be in the midst of a global pandemic 10 months later. There’s an old joke about the light at the end of the tunnel being the train coming at you. It sure can feel that way some days, but I remain hopeful that we will continue to get through these challenges together.
At Farm Bureau, we want farmers and ranchers to know they are not alone when stress takes its toll. When we started focusing our attention on rural stress and mental health more than two years ago, we knew these were important matters on the farm, but we had no idea what was coming. Even without the lost markets and income as a result of the pandemic adding to farmers’ stress, we had already been facing trade disruptions, extreme weather events, labor shortages–and the list goes on. It can be hard to admit when everything is not OK, but it makes a world of difference to reach out and share that burden with your friends and family.
In February 2020, Farm Bureau expanded the reach and impact of our work in addressing stress and mental health issues in farming and rural communities with the Farm State of Mind campaign from Bayer. This campaign has given us a broader platform to highlight the importance of good mental health on a national scale. It’s so important for farmers, ranchers and everyone in rural communities to understand the sources of stress and be willing to talk about it. Through our Farm State of Mind outreach, we’re helping people recognize the warning signs of stress, encouraging conversations, and providing resources to help farm and ranch families and rural communities.
Last month, AFBF conducted a national poll to find out how the pandemic is impacting farmers’ and ranchers’ mental health, and it confirmed the need for support is real. Two in three farmers and farm employees said the pandemic has impacted their mental health, and younger rural adults were more likely than older rural adults to say it has impacted their mental health a lot. Farmers and farm employees were more likely than rural adults as a whole to have experienced feeling nervous, anxious or on edge during the pandemic. And the percentage of farmers and farm employees who said social isolation impacts mental health increased 22% since our last poll in April 2019, a significant finding given the long hours many work alone on the farm.
As farmers and ranchers, we can be proud of our resilience. We get up every day, do the work that needs to be done, and just keep going no matter what. But sometimes the qualities that make us such good farmers make it very hard for us to ask for help when we are under too much stress. We’ve all seen this firsthand, but it doesn’t have to be this way. It’s OK not to be OK, and you don’t have to go it alone.
If you or someone you know is struggling emotionally or has concerns about their mental health, please visit the Farm State of Mind website at farmstateofmind.org where you can find crisis hotlines, treatment locators, tips for helping someone in emotional pain, ways to start a conversation and resources for managing stress, anxiety or depression.
We all know farmers help farmers, and this past year has been no exception. In 2021, let’s all resolve to look out even more for our friends, family and neighbors, watch for warning signs of stress we may see in them, and offer a helping hand. No matter what comes our way, there’s hope and help in our Farm Bureau family and in our rural communities because we are truly stronger together.
Vincent “Zippy” Duvall, a poultry, cattle and hay producer from Greene County, Georgia, is the 12th president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.