With a suicide rate reaching nearly 50 percent higher than the national average, farming is considered one of the most stressful occupations in the United States. It’s an unprecedented number and one that deserves national attention.
Wendy Blackwood of Healing Path Counseling is a licensed professional counselor who has been trying to help spread the word and normalize the conversation about mental health among farmers and ranchers. However, many are not willing to discuss an issue that’s so personal.
“There’re several reasons why farmers won’t reach out for help on their own,” she said. “There’s a lot of ‘Pull yourself up by your bootstraps,’ kind of attitudes. There’s a stigma that it’s not OK to reach out, because they think they should be able to manage on their own.”
Morrilton Veterinary Clinic Dr. Cy Surtleff says sometimes it’s just a matter of getting the conversation started.
“We’re dealing with the health of the animal, but it spills over into the economic issues and just everything that relates to that farm,” he said. “Sometimes, I say, ‘I think we need to sit down to go over your numbers,’ and maybe dig deep into their finances.”
Recognizing the signs of depression might not always be easy, but there are things to look for, including: anxiety, irritability, fatigue or a hopeless outlook. Normalizing mental health issues and making it part of the everyday conversation, especially at the places where farmers and ranchers hang out like coffee shops, equipment stores, barber shops, etc., has the potential to save lives.
If you or someone you know are experiencing suicidal thoughts or struggling with mental health issues, dial 988 to reach the suicide prevention hotline. Farmers can also call 1-800-Farm-Aid or log on to farmaid.org for access to a whole network of support services.