The COVID-19 pandemic has placed increased stress upon the agricultural community. Farmers must navigate new health protocols and adapt to a changing economic landscape while experiencing greater isolation, due to social distancing.
Where can farmers turn to for help? Each other.
In a new campaign called Farming Together (using the hashtag #FarmingTogether on social media), UNH Extension and the Farm Bureau are encouraging farmers to connect with one another during these challenging times.
Josh Marshall, communications director for the NH Farm Bureau, said, “Farming is a stressful job in the best of times, but our greatest allies in mitigating that stress are our fellow farmers. We’re challenging farmers to pick up the phone and check in on one of their peers. A simple, ‘How are you doing?’ is a great way to be there for your farming friends and to show that we are all farming together.”
These are some of the ways that we can help farmers maintain positive mental health.
1. Identify Sources of Stress
The Farm Bureau explains that stress can manifest itself in physical ways. Signs of increased stress can be insomnia, tension, irritability and fatigue. Stress can also lead to behavioral changes such as disruptions to routines, a decline in care of livestock, increased farm accidents and withdrawal from regular activities.
Olivia Saunders, Extension field specialist in fruit and vegetable production, explained the unique relationship farmers have with their jobs: “Farming becomes your identity; it’s everything you are. It’s your work, it’s your home, it’s your whole life. The feeling of ‘what if I fail after this being in my family for generations?’ can be a heavy burden.” Saunders has put together important tips for farmers coping with stress.
2. Remove Stigmas
American Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall said, "Tough-minded, independent farmers and ranchers are not used to admitting they need help or asking for it. It is up to all of us to check in with our friends and neighbors and see how they are doing. Looking for the warning signs can save a life." Learn more about how to help loved ones and neighbors using this resource sheet about mental health from the Farm Bureau.
3. Start a Conversation
Amy Franklin of Riverview Farm in Plainfield, NH, is grateful for Extension’s open forums for New Hampshire farmers, which have brought together farmers from across the state.
“I think that checking in with each other, even if it is just to comment on these unprecedented times, can open a gateway between farmers to have a more meaningful conversation about experiences during the growing season thus far and express any stress that has come with it,” she said.
For more information about getting help for farmers showing prolonged stress, visit this resource from Colorado State University Extension: Farm and Ranch Family Stress and Depression: A Checklist and Guide for Making Referrals.
Are you facing a crisis? The Crisis Text Line is available for free 24/7. https://www.crisistextline.org/