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FARM STRESS: Full-time farmers, whose families rely on farming income to provide for their family living, have a major amount of challenges that they face in any given year.

Stresses of farming can lead to mental health challenges

University Insight: It is important to identify common stressors, recognize the symptoms and manage the strain.

By Suzanne Pish and Adam J. Kantrovich

Farming ranks in the top 10 most stressful occupations in the United States and an estimated 20% of farmers may suffer from depression. Male farmers kill themselves nearly twice as often as males in the general population; however, suicide rates can be unclear as it is sometimes unknown if the cause of death was a suicide or a farming accident.

Full-time farmers, whose families rely on farming income to provide for their family living, have a significant amount of challenges that they face in any given year. Farmers are reliant on fluctuating market prices for the products they raise, and therefore do not get to figure in the costs they have into raising their product and cannot always price their product accordingly. A vast number of events can affect a farm’s income, such as low commodity prices, geopolitical events, weather and diseases. According to the USDA’s Economic Research Services, farm income has continued to drop since 2013 and is down 50% from that year.

This year alone in Michigan and around the country, a variety of events occurred nationally ­— all of which is added on top of the stress of owning and managing a multigenerational family farm:
• Weather events have wiped out some fruit crops.
• Commodity prices for corn, soybeans, milk and other livestock commodities have dropped dramatically.
• Labor shortages are leaving farms unable to find the necessary workers to milk cows and harvest fresh fruit and vegetables

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recently examined 130 occupations and found laborers and farm owners had the highest rate of deaths due to stress-related conditions like heart and artery disease, hypertension, ulcers and nervous disorder. It is important to know how to manage stress levels and to reduce the effects of unwanted stress. Too much stress can make a person more accident-prone. This is why it is important to identify common stressors, recognize the symptoms of stress and manage stress. By doing these three things, farmers can make their workplace safer.

The Michigan State University Extension RELAX: Alternative to Anger program states that stress is a normal emotional response to the demands of life. Everyone experiences it, and the results vary in intensity from being in a foul mood to more complicated illnesses. Family Development Resources Inc. estimates that 75 to 90% of all illnesses are stress-related.

Suffering from depression?
Are you or someone you know in the farming industry? Below is a list of signs and symptoms of depression and the warning signs of suicide:

• Signs of depression — change in routine, more colds or chronic physical conditions, farm or livestock not taken cared for, more injuries due to fatigue or lack of concentration

• Symptoms of depression — decreased concentration, memory and ability to make decisions; feelings of sadness, anxiousness, emptiness and restlessness; feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness and hopelessness; fatigue and lack of energy; angry outbursts and irritability; issues with sleep and eating; unexplained physical symptoms, such as persistent aches and pains; loss of interest or pleasure in activities or hobbies; thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts.

Warning signs of suicide
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention offers the following insights:

• Talk — being a burden to others, feeling trapped, experiencing unbearable pain, having no reason to live.

• Behavior — increased use of alcohol or drugs, looking for a way to kill themselves (e.g. searching online for materials or means), acting recklessly, withdrawing from activities, isolating from family and friends, sleeping too much or too little, visiting or calling people to say goodbye, giving away prized possessions

• Mood — depression, loss of interest, rage, irritability, humiliation, anxiety

If you or someone you know are experiencing symptoms of depression or have suicidal thoughts, reach out for help through these resouces:

• Call a suicide prevention hotline:

• Michigan Association for Suicide Prevention (734-624-8328)

National Suicide Prevention hotline: tel:1-800-273-8255

• Reach out to a mental health provider:

• Call 211 

• Reach out to a loved one to talk about how you are feeling

• Talk to your friends, clergy, or medical provider

• Remove whatever can harm you now. (e.g., firearms, knives, pills)

• Realize that you will die if you believe the lie. The lie is that suicide will solve all of your problems.  You CAN find healthy ways to deal with the challenges.

• Turn to other activities to divert your mind.

Michigan State University Extension has been providing programs around the state on how to communicate with farmers and farm families in these times of stress. Contact your local Michigan State University Extension office for available programs or to request a program. The MSU Extension Farm Information Resource Management (FIRM) Team also works with farms to assist in financial analysis and options for the farm facing financial difficult times.

Website and material can be found online. Financial decision tools and resources along with contact information can be found at the FIRM Team website.

Pish and Kantrovich are MSU Extension educators.

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