The Reality of Farming & Mental Health Issues
Farming is a highly stressful way of life. Each day is met with financial risk, an unforgiving mother nature, strenuous workloads, and volatile markets. Although this may be an obvious observation, most of those in the non-farming community don’t realize the effect this stress has on a farmer and his/her family. In fact, many in this realm actually view farming as a stress-free way of life.
Tim Kozojed, a farmer in Hillsboro, North Dakota, has been farming his entire life and is fully aware of the mental health issues present in the ag industry. “Yeah, it’s a real thing. It can be very taxing on your mental health,” Kozojed said.
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, individuals involved in agricultural careers had the highest suicide rate (84.5 per 100,000 people) of any occupational classification groups studied. This is nearly 3 times the suicide rate of military veterans, and shatters the myth of farming being a stress-free occupation.
Legacy. Farmers typically feel the stress of the economy more rapidly and aggressively than their nearby rural community members. The feeling that one economic disaster or mishap could potentially send them into a spiral and put them at risk of losing their farm is a reality many farmers have difficulty coping with.
To a farmer, losing a farm is far more complex than simply losing a job. Most farms are generational. It is the only thing most farmers have ever done and their farm holds just as much, if not more, significance as their last name. A lost farm is viewed as a lost identity, tarnished self-image, and a failure to all previous generations.
Social. As emerging technologies continue to allow farmers to do more with less people, working alone will become increasingly common. This feeling of isolation and lack of team can be extremely detrimental to a farmer’s psyche and morale.
Moreover, farmers place significant importance on the bond they create with their community. In a farmer’s eyes, failing doesn’t solely affect them and their family. It effects all those in their community and support system. Placing this much weight on one’s shoulders is too much for many farmers to handle and cope with properly.
Mother Nature. When it comes down to it, everything is in the hands of mother nature. A farmer can do everything in their power and control to set themselves up for success. They can put generations worth of knowledge, a lifetime of experience, and unrelenting work ethic to use, but if mother nature is feeling cynical, there is nothing to stop it.
This feeling of helplessness and lack of control can lead to debilitating stress and unhealthy coping mechanisms/vices.
Workaholism. With legacy, family, community, and self-image always on a farmers mind, many adopt a workaholic lifestyle to cope. Similar to alcoholism, workaholism is simply an avoidance coping strategy.
Often, those who adopt this type of work ethic ignore personal, marital, family, and social needs. Lacking the tools needed to balance all aspects of life often leads to a lack of tools on coping with the stresses of operating a farm.
While family is a farmer’s most important support system, properly coping requires the help and support of others around you and accepting the fact that you are not alone.
The most detrimental stigma among farmers is hyper-independence. Most farmers believe they shouldn’t burden others and that they should be able to deal with problems on their own, or even worse, not have to deal with them at all. Seen as a sign of weakness, putting the burden on others is not acceptable in the eyes of many farmers.
“You want people to know that there are other people out there to support them; that they are not alone. It’s not life or death. It’s something that’s worth working through. It’s not easy, but it’s worth working through.” – Tim Kozojed, Hillsboro Farmer.
Once this stigma is destroyed, farmers can begin to properly cope with these mental health issues.
If you, or someone you know, are a farmer and need to discuss any mental health issues:
- Call 2-1-1 for listening support, suicidal thoughts, mental health issues, crisis and referral.
- Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
- Reach out to a loved one; talk about how you are feeling.
- Talk to friends, clergy or medical provider.