LANCASTER, Pa. — Stress in farm life is not unusual. But, sometimes there are stressful situations that last a significantly long time and impact the family and other farm workers.
The Mid-Atlantic Women in Agriculture holds webinars regularly to increase awareness of various farm-related topics. A recent topic addressed was “Emotional Well-Being: Warning Signs and Resources.” The panel of presenters on the topic included Jesse Ketterman and Jeanette Jeffrey, from the University of Maryland Extension, and Maria Pippidis, of the University of Delaware Extension.
Stressors come in two forms, Pippidis said, ordinary and extraordinary.
Ordinary stressors are those that are common for most farmers, but are generally manageable. Examples include having a busy schedule, health issues, production and management issues, access to health care, or family issues.
Extraordinary stressors include incidents most difficult to manage or control. Examples of these include weather events, volatile markets, rising interest rates, tariff and trade issues, and regulations.
Pippidis talked about the signs of overwhelming stress on a farm and then asked those participating in the webinar to list some of those signs they have witnessed.
Among the visible signs that stress is taking over a farm environment are: anger, resentment of chores, isolation from family, increased usage of alcohol, children’s negative behavior, and illness or injury.
“Maybe the fields aren’t getting plowed, and the maintenance isn’t done. The structures are falling down,” Pippidis said, referring to indications that things are overwhelming a farmer. Often, however, these things are overlooked, she said.
“I want you to think about your mental health and susbstance abuse issues as if you’re not feeling well,” Ketterman said, “What do you do when you don’t feel well? You see a doctor.”
Ketterman said stress can be good or bad.
“Good stress can motivate us to do things,” he said, while too much stress can cause problems.
Alcohol use is similar, he said. Some people believe a glass of wine a day is good for you. But, he said, an overuse is dangerous.
He also said that feelings of depression is something normal, because everyone experiences it at some point over an issue.
“Prescriptions can fall in that same spectrum. They can make us feel better. Abusing prescriptions can lead to poor health and let us end up in a worse condition,” Ketterman said.
Signs of substance abuse may be the quantity and speed of drinking alcohol. If someone is continuously drinking alone, that is an issue. If there is an overdependence on medications, that is a concern.
Local county health departments will have substance abuse resources to seek help from.
Depression involves feelings of sadness, worthlessness and hopelessness that may last a short time. But when those feelings seem to be non-stop, help is needed. Signs of depression include guilt, irritability, lack of interest, and no longer engaging with people.
You may also see impacts in sleeping and weight change as well as an inability to concentrate.
“Depression and (thoughts of) suicide are different, but there are similar resources (for seeking help),” he said.
Take texts seriously, keeping in mind that younger farmers may be more likely to use a cellphone to text someone when reaching out to ask for help, he said.
Many people thinking suicidally may say they feel guilty, isolate themselves, talk about death often, and may even give away possessions and say goodbye to friends and family.
“When it comes to suicide, people are worried about this, but it is OK to ask someone: ‘Hey are you having thoughts of suicide?’ If they say they are thinking that, don’t leave them alone. Contact someone,” Ketterman said, such as crisis line, or go to the hospital, etc.
There is a course, Mental Health First Aid, available for training in how to help someone having a mental health crisis, online at www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org. It describes the five steps to help, following the acronym, “ALGEE” as follows:
• Assess the risk.
• Listen non-judgmentally. “Don’t say, ‘don’t talk like that,’ Just give them that listening.”
• Give reassurance.
• Encourage appropriate professional help. Never promise not to tell anyone. Get the person the help they need.
• Encourage self help and support strategies.
Stress management strategies include talking to others, relaxation techniques through deep breathing yoga or meditation, exercise and seeking professional help.
There is also help available for those who have experienced the death of someone close to them by suicide. “Children of parents who died by suicide are at a higher risk,” said Jeffrey.
Ketterman listed the National Suicide Prevention line at 800-273-8255.
Because younger farmers may opt to text instead, Jeffrey he text line to talk to someone if you are feeling suicidal is 741741.
For all mental health or substance abuse concerns, contact the National Alliance on Mental Illness at 800-950-6264.
Another resource, the panelists said, may be to contact your county assistance office.