Workshop offers help to farmers coping with stress

Published 10:22 am Friday, January 27, 2023

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Coping with stressors on the farm is a learning process, and there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach.

That was a key takeaway from a Jan. 8 workshop called “Helping Farmers Cope with Stress and Anxiety” held during the 2023 American Farm Bureau Federation Annual Convention. Panelists discussed how farmers are coping with ongoing anxiety they face on the farm, as well as how they can seek help.

Speakers highlighted results of a study conducted by the Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center at Mercer University in collaboration with the Georgia Foundation for Agriculture. The organizations surveyed farmowners, farm managers and farmworkers about what stressed them the most.

“Sixty-one percent of farmers reported that balancing home and work life, along with weather and its effect on the farm, are their top stressors,” explained Stephanie Basey, a research assistant at the Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center. “Savings, retirement, unexpected financial burdens and succession planning round out the top stressors for all farmers who completed this study.”

The report revealed that stressors differ based on a farmer’s age, gender, race, experience and role on the farm. Farm women, for example, identified their top stressor as balancing home and work life.

“First generation farmers reported financial issues as causing high stress,” Basey explained. “At least half are lonely, sad and depressed, and reported being unhappy with their role at least once per month. And worryingly, 46% of first-generation farmers think about dying by suicide at least once a month.”

Agricultural communities should find healthy ways to cope, panelists said. About 40% of surveyed farmers manage stress by exercising or walking, while others engage in hobbies, talk with friends and family, and pray. Many turn toward more harmful methods like relying on alcohol.

Matt Berry, a first-generation farmer who owns CB Farms LLC and Dixie Lix Industries Inc. in Georgia with his wife, Alicia, said finding mentors and having social support helps him when he’s struggling.

“I’ve got a friend I’ll call … we’ll offer advice back and forth,” Matt said. “It means something to hear that confidence from him or for him to listen and offer that advice to me.”

Farmers’ spouses also play an important role in providing support.

“I get to see those stressors firsthand,” Alicia said, discussing how farmers rely on their spouses. “Just being there for your spouse, listening to them and just being present … I think that’s the most important thing we can do.”

It’s never too early to ask for help, panelists said, and resources are available to farmers struggling with stress and anxiety, such as the AFBF’s Farm State of Mind directory and mental health first aid trainings from AgriSafe. The workshop also outlined ways farmers can talk with their doctors about stress and anxiety.

“Unfortunately, many healthcare providers are not connected to the farming community or the ag community, so they don’t understand when they’re coming up with a treatment plan, how it’s going to affect that farmer,” said Amy Johnson, a family nurse practitioner with Centra Medical Group and Bedford County Farm Bureau president. “It’s important to let their provider know what their responsibilities are on the farm, and what their commitments are. Working with their healthcare provider, they can come up with treatment plans that will work within their daily schedules.”