Resources to help farmers and ranchers cope with stress – AgFax


Farmer’s hands. ©Debra L Ferguson

Stress has become a fact of life for farm and ranch families. Several factors are responsible for this situation: high supply costs and growing agricultural debt, the changing outlook for international trade and the damage caused by drought, forest fires and violent storms accompanied by winds and destructive hail.

Stress can be positive, giving us a competitive edge. However, when this stress turns into negative distress, it is no longer healthy for our well-being. In rural areas, many people are affected by the negative aspects of stress and chronic distress, resulting from challenges unique to the agricultural industry.

Farming and ranching professions are among the most stressful jobs in America, based on factors that affect a producer’s financial, physical and mental health, according to John Shutske, professor and extension specialist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Shutske has over 30 years of experience working with the farming community.

Suicide rates among people working in agriculture are among the highest when compared across occupational groups. Complex factors such as markets, long working hours and weather conditions are often out of control, and these factors can have a significant influence on the livelihoods of farmers and pastoralists. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to amplify problems that already exist and contribute to increased stress.

Shutske said stress is a double-edged sword. A little stress can serve as constructive motivation, spurring us to action. However, too much stress can harm our health, compromise safety and sabotage personal relationships.

It reduces our ability to consider and evaluate optional solutions to complex problems and can limit our power to make sound decisions. Stress can also manifest as a vicious circle with growing consequences that can cripple business owners or their families.

When a person has symptoms of stress, such as mood swings, anger, irritability, loneliness, anxiety, lack of energy, sleep deprivation, low self-esteem, self, constant worries, forgetfulness, overeating or increased consumption of alcohol or drugs, do not be afraid to talk about it with them.

Listen to the person you care about. It is important not to pass judgment on what the person shares. Instead, offer hope and let them know you care.

It is also important to find a sense of community and seek support (Henning-Smith et al., 2022). Being part of a community can give a sense of belonging, feeling supported during difficult times and can give meaning to life. More importantly, it is important to find people to communicate with, which can be very helpful in managing stress.

If you or someone you know needs help managing your stress or would like to talk to someone confidentially, resources are available:

  • Rural Helpline (from Nebraska Legal Aid) offers free, free vouchers for confidential mental health services to those affected by the rural crisis. They also offer information on agricultural mediation clinics. Call 800-464-0258 or visit Rural helpline website to learn more.
  • Nebraska Farm Negotiations uses mediation as a way to resolve disputes over agricultural loans and other matters. Dial 402-471-4876. (Nebraska Department of Agriculture)
  • The Nebraska Resource and Referral System (NRRS) lists toll-free numbers, websites, and email contacts to help you connect faster to the services you’re looking for.
  • Call or text 9-8-8 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

The following resources come from a Web page created in collaboration by Nebraska Extension and University of Wyoming Extension.

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