Mike Tyson, Managing Adversity & Mental Health

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

By Drew DeSutter
District 8
Young Leader Committee Member

I never thought I would be starting a Farm Bureau blog with a quote from the famous boxer Mike Tyson, but here I go:

“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

This is a line that I find myself saying over and over again when something doesn’t go right. While Iron Mike was referring to literally being punched in the mouth, he noted that his quote applies to how we react to any adversity. I feel like this is especially relevant to farm life.

 As farmers and small business owners, we are constantly creating plans to lead us down a path to success. This planning can consume every hour of the day, as everything we do seems to relate to our business. We can’t have a daily conversation, listen to the radio, read a book, or browse social media without making some sort of connection to the farm. And I KNOW I’m not the only one who has woken up in the middle of the night after dreaming about driving a tractor, or fixing a problem from the day before!

 Since we’ve been taught throughout life that proper preparation leads to success, this constant and all-consuming lifestyle of planning should equal success, right? I don’t need to tell you how wrong that statement is. I could fill an entire book with endless examples of the events we go through where our supposed routine changes unexpectedly. Whether it’s big or small, expensive or cheap, a quick fix or has a long-lasting impact, nearly every single day brings some sort of interruption to our plans...which means every single day brings stress and frustration to our workplace and livelihood. It doesn’t matter if it’s preventable or uncontrollable (our success depends on the weather, for heaven’s sake), daily adversities are challenging to deal with.

Whenever we read an article or listen to an interview, farmers are portrayed as happy people who live off the land, and are born into this world with a wild passion for operating equipment, caring for their animals and a love for working alongside their family. I’ve personally heard people wish that they were farmers more times than I could count, making an implication that the profession is all roses. While this portrayal is certainly accurate under some circumstances, there is a flipside to that coin that isn’t discussed: farming is an occupation that is flat out stressful. In fact, it is so stressful that farmers across the world suffer from life-threatening mental health conditions, like depression and anxiety.

 Unfortunately, most of us personally know an individual whose anxiety or depression has resulted in negative behaviors, strained relationships, or even suicide. According to the Center for Disease Control, the suicide rate in farmers is higher than any other occupation, and estimated at twice the rate of military veterans. These statistics are downright scary and begs the question as to why it isn’t discussed more. I think it’s hard to discuss mental health issues in an industry that is portrayed as ‘strong.’ Perfection is the goal, and a weakness towards any component of farming is seen as negative, whether that’s in production practices, personal habits, or even an illness. Even though it’s impossible to be perfect, it’s still uncomfortable to admit to having imperfections. There’s also a guilt complex when it comes to mental health issues. “If I’m doing what I love, making money, and living the dream according to everyone else, then why do I feel so bad all the time?” Each of these factors lead to a lack of conversation, and result in an existing problem only getting worse. 

While conversations about mental health issues in America are slowly getting stronger, they need to become more prevalent in farming circles as well. We are riding a winding financial and economic roller coaster, we’re working in an isolated profession, and we’re sometimes even predisposed to depression and anxiety simply through our genetics. I have been to dozens of conference presentations in my young life as a farmer, and I have literally never seen a focus on mental health topics, despite their enormous prevalence and extreme nature. We need to talk about this, and we need to know more.

“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Farming is full of adversity. If you or someone you know is struggling to cope with the roller coaster this industry brings, don’t wait to get help. Make an appointment with a therapist, talk to your general doctor about treatment plans like therapy or medications, be open with your loved ones, share your story, and don’t be afraid to call a suicide hotline (800-FARM-AID/800-327-6243 or 800-273-TALK/800-273-8255). Depression and anxiety, like any illness, can take over your life and prevent you from effectively facing adversities. They can force even the most rational person make incredibly impulsive and irrational decisions. But with proper treatment, these mental health conditions can be controlled.

People we know and love are struggling. Depression and anxiety aren’t happening to strangers, they’re happening to us. Let’s talk about it.