Farmers commit suicide twice as often as veterans, according to some studies. In recent years, the mental health crisis among farmers has become a prominent issue and area of concern. Farmers have an exceptionally high rate of depression and suicide, and efforts are underway across the country to bring support to farmers and reverse the trend.
Farmers are isolated. Each year, they go from working nonstop to having little to do in the winter. They face the stress of paying massive loans on necessary equipment. Farmers have no control of the weather, but depend on it for a quality crop. And they also have no control of the crop market, but depend on it for income. There are many factors working against farmers and causing stress, and the most important thing we can do is know why and what to look for, and keep talking about it. Jill Frueh and Evan Hultine from the Bureau County Farm Bureau join the Pulse to discuss the crisis and what can be done to help.
Farmers face more than the normal stresses that come with life and working. The vast majority of farms in Illinois are still family-owned. When the farm has been around for multiple generations, there is a lot of pressure to not be the one to mess it up. There is a lot of pressure to live up to the success of previous generations, even though the times have made it much harder to be successful.
Farmers are also much more isolated, and they are not a group 'expected' to have any mental health issues. Mental health is seldom talked about, and still holds a major stigma. Meanwhile, the farmer depression and suicide rates have skyrocketed. Weather that ruins crops or delays planting for months, as it did in the spring of 2019, does nothing to help that situation. The crisis extends to more than just farmers, and includes ag sales representations and others whose livelihood is dependent on agriculture, and whose day is spent talking with people who are stressed or depressed. It takes a major toll.
There are signs and symptoms to watch out for. For farmers with depression or other mental health condition, you may notice a lack of care or concern for crops, animals, the farm, or their personal appearnance. Sleeping and eating habits might change, and they might be constantly tired. You might notice excessive drinking, and withdrawal from family and friends. If you know someone indicating these symptoms, it is important to talk to them, listen, and make them feel supported, not judged. Just like a physical disease, such as cancer, show concern and support, and encourage them to visit with their primary care provider and seek help.
Fortunately, the crisis has reached the point that people are talking about it. Not necessarily farmers themselves, but certainly the families. When it is talked about, solutions can begin. Farmers start to feel less alone and might start to see there are resources available to help.
The rural mental health crisis will not be resolved by waiting around for the best solution. In fact, there is no perfect way to handle it, but there are a lot of good ways. Together, we can make a difference.
Jill has worked for the Farm Bureau for 20 years. She and her husband have 2 children and raise purebred Yorkshires in Bureau Count.
Evan graduated from the University of Illinois and farms full time with his family in Bureau County.
National Suicide Hotline: 800-273-8255
Text Talk to 741-741 for 24/7 conversations with a trained counselor
Farm and Farmer Hotline: 800-327-6243