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Mental health for farmers: A small gesture can go a long way for those who aren’t OK

Crystal Graham
farmer stress
(© S@photo – stock.adobe.com)

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and American Farm Bureau Federation is reminding farmers that a small gesture can go a long way for a loved one who’s not OK.

The farming population is 3.5 times more likely than the general population to die by suicide. AFBF is focused on the power of relationships this year – both as a tool for helping farmers cope with stress, and as a lifeline for those struggling with depression, suicidal thoughts or substance misuse.

During May, AFBF is asking members to reach out to friends, neighbors and fellow farmers by sending a text or note, or calling to check on them.

“You never quite know what someone is going through,” said Jeremy Daubert, a Virginia Cooperative Extension agent and recent guest on Virginia’s Young Farmers Podcast with Laura Siegel, AgriSafe health communications officer.

  • Helpline: AgriSafe, a national network of agricultural resources and trainings, created the AgriStress Helpline, which is available 24/7 in Virginia. Farmers can call or text 833-897-2474 to speak directly with a healthcare professional, and crisis specialists have access to a Virginia-specific database of agricultural and health resources.
  • Podcast: Hosted by Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Young Farmers Ashley Kuhler and Morgan Slaven, the podcast episode emphasized the importance of recognizing stress in a friend or a loved one, particularly among farmers.
  • Website: Visit AFBF’s Farm State of Mind website for more information.

“They can’t just take a week off here or take a month off there. It’s day in, day out, and that stress really has a detrimental impact on mental and physical health,” Daubert said.

Poor mental health also can lead to increased risk of injury on the farm, said Becky Broaddus, a member of the VFBF Farm Safety Advisory Committee and a leader of mental health trainings for those who work with farmers. Common barriers to farmers seeking mental health counseling include accessibility to counselors, the need to take time away from the farm, admitting that a problem exists, and the stigma associated with seeking help, said Broaddus.

“The farm community can help fight this stigma by working together to recognize signs and symptoms, encouraging those who need help to get it, supporting those who are struggling, and by not being afraid to say something or do something,” Broaddus said.

2021 AFBF survey suggests that stigma surrounding mental health among rural adults has decreased by 11 percent since 2019, but 61 percent of the 2,000 rural adults surveyed still agree it is an obstacle to seeking help.

Any change in behavior can be a sign that a loved one or friend is struggling. Common signs of distress include nervousness, agitation or irritability, excessive crying or sleeping, changes in personal relationships or avoidance or withdrawal.

“If you know someone is struggling but you’re not sure what to do, start by just listening to them,” Broaddus said. “You don’t have to fix the problem; just listen and be there.”


If you or someone you know needs support now, call or text 988 or chat at 988lifeline.org

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.