Q&A with Megz Reynolds, Executive Director, Do More Agriculture Foundation
Anna: Why is there a traditionally negative stigma around mental health in agriculture?
Megz: Agriculture is an industry with a foundation of deep rural roots, hard work, resilience, strength, and community. In order to uphold that image, those traits can also be the industry’s weakness as they become barriers for speaking up and seeking help. The stigma, both internal and external, surrounding mental health in agriculture is very strong. This stigma makes it hard to talk about mental health as talking about it is likened to showing weakness, to failing as a farmer.
A: What can we do to reduce that stigma in agriculture?
M: Raising awareness is the first step in ending the stigma surrounding mental health in agriculture. We need to normalize talking and asking questions about our mental health, normalize taking care of our mental health and normalize sharing our own stories and journeys.
A: What stressors most affect farmers and ranchers?
M: Farmers and ranchers are among the most vulnerable when it comes to mental health issues. Stress, anxiety, depression, emotional exhaustion, and burnout are all high among producers. Producers live where they work and are often in very rural areas that lack the support networks that are more readily available in larger urban centers. Some of the stressors farmers and ranchers face on a regular basis are having many of the factors required for success out of their control, like weather, commodity prices, input, feed and utility costs. Working with family, while rewarding, can also be very challenging, communication breakdowns and the fear of failing current and past generations on a multi-generational farm. Often farmers and ranchers link their sense of self-worth to their success on farm, this puts additional pressure to succeed especially when paired with the stigma that keeps producers from reaching for help or acknowledging that something is going on that they need assistance with.
A: What can producers do to stay mentally well during stressful seasons?
M: Taking care of our mental health and mental wellbeing can be very hard during the busy seasons, we are running short on sleep, not spending a lot of time with our families, need to go full out when the weather permits and are constantly managing stressful situations like breakdowns. Below are some little things that you can do during the busy seasons that can make a big impact on your mental health.
A: What are some symptoms to recognize if a farming friend or family member needs help?
M: One of the biggest symptoms that someone may be struggling are changes to their behavior, routine, or personality. Did they used to be active online and now seem to have stopped posting and commenting? Have they started turning down social events or showing up late to the farm? Are they faster to react and often their reaction seems over the top for the situation?
A: What can friends and family do to help those struggling with mental health?
M: It can be very hard to see someone struggling with their mental health and even harder when we are unsure how to help them. Showing someone that you are there for them and genuinely interested in how they are doing can help someone immensely. When someone is struggling it can be very difficult to open up, if you are able to share and be vulnerable about your mental or emotional state you can create a safe place for that other person to also share. If someone in your family or on your farm are going through a hard and stressful time, please assist them in reaching out to local support systems like crisis lines.
A: If a farmer wants to seek help from a counselor, what should they know before doing so?
M: It’s completely normal to feel apprehensive or unsure about reaching out to a mental health professional, for most of us talking about our mental health is not something we are used to doing. Your first session with a counselor is most often an introduction session, be prepared to share about your physical and mental state, your lifestyle and what you're dealing with. Therapy isn't only for talking about feelings. Farmers and ranchers deal with high amounts of stress for long periods of time, it is important for your counselor to work with you to learn coping strategies. Remember that you have the right to share as little or as much as you choose with your mental health clinician and that it may take a couple sessions for you to feel comfortable enough to fully share what is going on with you.
A: Why should good mental health be a priority for rural communities?
M: We cannot have a healthy agricultural industry or healthy farms and rural communities without healthy farmers and ranchers.
The Idaho Farm and Ranch Center is a program of the Idaho State Department of Agriculture that helps Idahoans start, manage, and transition farms and ranches. Learn more and find resources at https://farm.idaho.gov/
The Do More Agriculture Foundation champions the mental wellbeing of farmers and ranchers. Learn more and find resources at https://www.domore.ag/
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health or thoughts of suicide, call the FARM AID Hotline: 1-800-FARM-AID or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255.