For many in the ag industry, farming isn’t just an occupation—it’s a lifestyle. The lifestyle includes a rollercoaster of challenges—wild milk price swings, rising input costs, supply chain hiccups, Mother Nature, and the pressure to sustain the family farm. Understandably, many farmers suffer from mental health challenges. In fact, a new report titled, “Our Epidemic of Loneliness and Isolation,” finds that even before the COVID-19 pandemic, about half of U.S. adults reported experiencing measurable levels of loneliness.
Adrienne DeSutter, who family owns and operates an Illinois farm family says that statistics underline that social isolation also impacts the mental health of farmers and farm workers. While this number shows a decline during the pandemic amongst farmers, DeSutter, who is also an ag mental health specialist says that most farmers don’t realize just how much isolation plays a role in their mental health.
“For example, when we first went on lockdown in the beginning of the pandemic, farmers reported feeling like life wasn’t much different; they were still planting, still working with the same small handful of coworkers, still able to socially distance themselves simply because of the nature of farming,” she shares. “However, as time went by over the summer months and those few social events were canceled (i.e., fairs, monthly meetings, coffee shop gatherings, fundraisers, evening get-togethers, etc.), I heard a lot of chatter about how farmers didn’t realize just how much those small bits of socialization really meant to them.”
Nonetheless, isolation is huge when it comes to farming. DeSutter shares that the stressors farmers face are parallel with the stressors of the pandemic—isolation, financial uncertainty, working closely with family, work/home imbalance due to working from home, fear for safety, uncontrollable factors—and so much more.
“While farmers have been dealing with those stressors for decades, their attitude is entirely different; ‘Buck up, pull the bootstraps up and get to work,’” DeSutter shares. “Since research supports having a more proactive approach to protecting our mental health, it, unfortunately, makes sense that farmers face more stress-related fatalities and mental health challenges than those of other occupations.”
During busy farming seasons and during the nonstop 24-7, 365-day commitment of dairy farm life, DeSutter offers three tips to farmers and farm workers to help combat isolation and overall help boost mental health.
Tips to Combat Isolation
- Staying connected with others is imperative for our growth and development. In ag, this can come in many forms: stopping for a coffee before hopping in the tractor, “talking shop” with the seed rep, sticking around a few minutes after a meeting to catch up with a colleague, attending conferences or other networking opportunities, swinging by the neighbor’s place on your way home, becoming active on social media platforms, having a buddy to text on your good days and your bad days, or even starting a group chat with friends. Any effort to communicate with like-minded peers fuels the connection that your mind craves.
- Be proactive! Don’t wait until you notice signs of loneliness before you decide to ramp up your social interactions. While everyone’s need for social interactions differs, even the most introverted farmers need to feel a sense of belonging to thrive. Whether it’s with a family member, a colleague, or a friend, maintaining even one good relationship can make a difference in your mental health.
- Don’t be afraid to contact a counselor or helpline. Farmstateofmind.org is a great place to find local resources for your state, including ag-friendly professionals. You don’t have to have a mental health condition- like depression or anxiety- and you don’t have to be in a state of crisis to call a counselor or a helpline. These people are trained to help you feel supported, no matter what level of stress you are facing.
For more resources on mental health and wellness, click on Mental Health & Wellness Resources for the Dairy Community | NMPF