Are you feeling stressed? Help is available

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farmers hands on tool

By Sarah Noggle and Chris Zoller | Ohio State Extension

Dairy farming, like all occupations, has its good and bad days, highs and lows, stressors and joys. Being a farmer or dairy producer also brings unique challenges not experienced by others — weather, changing input prices and roller-coaster commodity prices, to name just a few. Sometimes, these stressors cause physical and emotional strain. 

Stress

According to Dr. Michael Rossman, farmers live by “The Agrarian Imperative,” which compels farmers to hang onto their land at all costs. The agrarian imperative urges farmers to work incredibly hard, to endure unusual pain and hardship and to take uncommon risks. 

Robert Fetsch, of Colorado State University, reported the results of a 1998 study that identified farming as one of the top 12 high-stress occupations. 

Health records, death certificates, hospital admissions and mental health center admissions of more than 22,000 Tennessee workers were examined and researchers determined that farm owners were among 12 categories of workers that displayed a high incidence of stress-related illnesses. 

The researchers also examined death certificates alone and found farm owners were second only to laborers in the rate of death from stress-related diseases. A 2017 Rural Health Research Gateway Rural Health Research Recap, Rural Behavioral Health, reviewed findings from several studies by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy. 

Mental illness

Findings show that mental illness is more prevalent in rural communities and rural areas lack the number of available behavioral healthcare facilities located in urban areas. Sean Brotherson, family life specialist for North Dakota State University Extension, reported that farming is often one of the most stressful occupations, leading to heart disease and hypertension. 

The Rural Health Information Hub reports that common mental health conditions affecting farmers include stress, depression, anxiety disorder and suicide.

Field specialist

To address the behavioral health needs of Ohio’s agricultural and rural communities, Ohio State University Extension recently hired Bridget Britton as a field specialist in behavioral health. Britton holds degrees in social work and previously worked as the family and consumer sciences educator in Carroll County, Ohio. 

She is certified to teach Mental Health First Aid, Trauma 101, and the Question, Persuade, Refer Suicide Prevention program. 

In her role as a behavioral health field specialist, Britton will lead a team of Ohio State University Extension professionals to develop a behavioral health curriculum and resources to address the educational needs of farm and rural residents and expand the breakdown on mental health barriers in agriculture. 

Britton is available for presentations or one-on-one discussions with individuals or families. She can be reached at 330-339-2337 or britton.191@osu.edu. 

Assistance

There are many resources available to anyone experiencing stress, depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts. 

Resources in Ohio include an Ohio county by county guide for local resources at u.osu.edu/cphp/ohio-mental- health-resource-guides, the Ohio State University Extension Farm Stress resources website at u.osu.edu/farmstress and Ohio Department of Agriculture’s farm stress website at agri.ohio.gov/wps/portal/gov/oda/gotyourback.

National resources include The National Suicide hotline at 800-273-8255 or online at suicidepreventionlifeline.org and National Farm Bureau’s Farm State of Mind website at fb.org/land/fsom. 

We all experience stressful situations, and some are more difficult than others. Stress can lead to anxiety, depression and thoughts of suicide. If you find yourself or someone you know experiencing mental or behavioral health issues, reach out to the resources described in this article. 

Mental or behavioral health concerns must be taken as seriously as a broken bone or heart attack. End the stigma around mental health and seek professional help. 

(Chris Zoller is an agricultural extension educator and county Extension director in Tuscarawas County, and a member of the OSU Extension DairyExcel team. Sarah Noggle is an agriculture and natural resources extension educator in Paulding County. Questions or comments can be sent in care of Farm and Dairy, P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460.)

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