Suffering silently on the farm

  • Studies have indicated farming has one of the highest suicide rates of any occupation but few seek help. What can we do to change the statistics?
Mental health plays a critical role in well-being and efficiency at work, yet it is a topic that currently has very little resonance in the farming sector. In a profession where practical solutions and “toughing it out” are seen as the principal ways to face difficulties, very few seek professional psychological support although studies have indicated farming has one of the highest suicide rates of any occupation.
The statistics are staggering. One farmer ends their life every two days in France. In India, one farmer commits suicide every 30 minutes. In 2014, Newsweek called the issue an international crisis.
When it comes to mental health in the agriculture sector, no continent is spared. Crushing debts, low yields, health issues, loneliness, environmental catastrophes, falling prices of agricultural commodities, shifting land rights, national laws, supranational policies and lack of employment benefits are among the many contributors to depression in farming. Farmers face incredible pressure in their daily tasks in addition to the long work hours they put in. It’s a 365-day job with very little rest. Additionally, a single event that can seem insignificant for the rest of the population, such as a warmer summer or a few cents increase in commodity prices, can have dramatic repercussions for farmers’ livelihoods.
Due to the nature of their occupation, farmers do not have access to the internal psychological support some companies would provide through a human resources department. They must find support elsewhere, either through their peers or by consulting a medical professional. Some studies have shown that the latter is rarely done by farmers, not only because some feel reluctant to seek outside help, but also because it remains a costly and often unavailable service due to remoteness or lack of specialists. The challenges lead some farmers to abandon their family farms and a life’s worth of hard work, while others might find a refuge in alcohol, and unfortunately, the difficulties seem so insurmountable to some that ending one’s life feels like the only option.

What can we do to reduce distress in the farming profession?

In a world where the number of farmers is decreasing while global population is soaring, let’s remember that farmers play a critical role in our very sustenance. More than ever, we need to support them in their endeavors.
Through education and awareness programs, we can encourage farmers to seek professional help in times of distress and make counseling a refuge. Specialized associations have been created to offer psychological support to farmers and help them overcome their daily difficulties, but these initiatives remain largely underdeveloped, especially in some regions of the world.
The first step, arguably, is in taking away the stigma of acknowledging the need for support for oneself, friends or family. Be aware of your own mental health, and take note of changes in family, friends, employees or neighbors. Then, reach out to a support network, many of which can offer confidential counseling services and some of which are specific to the unique needs of the agricultural community.

What can you do?

If you are suffering, please do not bear the burden in silence. Share your concerns with someone you trust or contact the resources below.
If someone you know is struggling, be there to support them and share resources like those below that can offer professional assistance.
Lastly, all of us can do a better job of supporting farmers, ranchers and producers, the very source of our sustenance. We can do this as agvocates on social media, in conversations with friends and family, and in our political systems.

A few support networks for farmers:

1-800-FARM-AID (1-800-327-6243)