Listening one key to farmer mental health

Farmers' stress levels generally high due to financials, frequent solitude.

By Chris Anderson

When it comes to sustaining farmers’ sound mental health, each person needs to and can do something. Ted Matthews, Minnesota Rural Mental Health director, shared the advice with county Farm Bureau managers last week during a Mental Health Outreach Workshop.

“People want to be heard, not fixed,” said Matthews, who will provide two Macro Talks during the Illinois Farm Bureau Annual Meeting in Chicago.

“Communication means people must listen. Simply acknowledge that someone is speaking. We’ll survive better as farmers if we listen to one another.”

Matthews noted farmers tend to pull back when stressed. Because farming is not only an occupation but also a way of life, farmers who face losing their farm believe they will lose everything familiar to them.

“Think of emotions as filling a cup. The cup fills as things happen. We don’t know how much we can handle until it overflows. Once the cup overflows, people try to understand the last thing that caused it. When we reach the point of no return, we no longer think clearly,” said Matthews.

Potential red flags for overly stressed farmers include no longer attending church or meeting for coffee with friends, eating meals in the barn instead of with family and ceasing to attend children’s activities.

“General stress levels are high among farmers due to financial issues and because farmers are more isolated. Their wives work in town, and the kids don’t have chores due to less livestock on farms,” said Matthews. “Suicides are increasing on farms throughout the country. For every suicide, there are 25 attempts.”

Bureau County Farm Bureau Manager Jill Frueh knows the reality behind those statistics. Two county farmers have taken their lives in the last year.

“It’s on our radar, and we needed to do something,” said Frueh, who suggested IFB staff conduct the mental health workshop for managers. “We can’t sit back. We need to relay the message that it’s OK for farmers to talk to someone. Talk with us, the salesman, clergy.”

Frueh noted Bureau County Farm Bureau plans to hold a mental health workshop next spring for lady landowners. Next March, three speakers at the Women in Agriculture Conference will focus on mental health.

Matthews further suggested county managers consider providing member mental health workshops featuring social service and county sheriff’s department representatives along with clergy.

“The best ways to help are to let farmers know who can help. Prevention occurs when we identify people going through things. We need to eliminate the concept of mental illness and think mental health,” said Matthews.

Matthews will lead 45-minute IFB Macro Talks during the annual meeting at 2:30 p.m. on Dec. 1 and at 8:30 a.m. on Dec. 2.

Content for this story was provided by FarmWeekNow.com.

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