Recognizing stress and depression


As a high school student I worked on a hog farm operated by a good family who was well respected throughout the community.

While in college I learned my previous employer had fallen into a deep depression, neglected feeding the animals and considered suicide as a way to cope with the low hog prices and high input costs.

Fortunately, the situation was resolved and the family successfully overcame the situation.

Cases of suicide

The economic climate in the dairy industry today is much like the one this hog farmer experienced. Cases of suicide have been reported on some dairy farms across the country.

A session on this very topic was one of the most highly attended at the recent Western Large Herd Dairy Conference. It is no surprise dairy farm families are being negatively impacted by current market prices.

Milk income is significantly lower while expenses have not dropped. This severe financial strain has caused elevated levels of stress for dairy farm families.

With the financial stress often comes emotional stress. There are a number of signs of stress that can be recognized by family, friends, employees, veterinarians, Extension professionals, school personnel or health and human service workers.

Signs of stress

These signs include:

Changes in routine

Family stops attending church, 4-H/FFA activities, or no longer stops at the coffee shop or feed mill.

Care of livestock declines

Animals may not be cared for properly; show signs of neglect.

Increase in illness

May experience more colds, flu, aches, pains, etc.

Increase in farm accidents

Stress causes fatigue which may result in increased accidents; children may not be well cared for.

Appearance of farmstead declines

Family no longer takes pride in the way buildings and grounds appear.

Children show signs of stress

Children may act out, be increasingly absent or show declines in academic performance.

Chronic or prolonged stress

Individuals or families experiencing prolonged stress may exhibit the following effects:

Physical — headaches, ulcers, backaches, sleep disturbance.

Emotional — sadness, depression, bitterness, anger, anxiety.

Behavioral — irritability, acting out, withdrawal.

Cognitive — memory loss, lack of concentration, inability to make decisions.

Self-esteem – “I’m a failure.”, “I blew it.”, “Why can’t I…?”

Signs of depression or suicidal intent

Depression: Poor appearance, unhappy feelings, negative thoughts, reduced activity, people problems, physical problems, guilt/low self esteem.

Suicidal intent: Anxiety, withdrawal, helpless and hopeless, alcohol/drug abuse, previous suicidal attempts, suicidal plan, cries for help.

How to refer a person for help

If you recognize signs of depression or suicide in a friend or family member, consider the following:

1. Be aware of the services available in your local community and what they can offer.

2. Listen for signs the person or family needs help that you can’t provide, i.e., financial, legal, counseling.

3. Assess what community resources would be most appropriate.

4. Discuss referral with the person or family — “It sounds/looks like you are feeling _________. I think __________ could help you deal with your situation.”

5. If the person/family is unwilling to take the initiative or where there is danger if no action is taken, you need to take the initiative.

a. Call an agency in the community that deals with these issues.

b. Identify yourself and your relationship with the person or family for whom you are seeking assistance.

c. Explain to the agency what you believe the person/family needs.

d. Provide information about the family and particulars of their situation.

e. Ask the agency what follow-up will be taken.

Many people are reluctant to get involved in these family situations because they are very personal issues.

Be proactive

However, it is better to be proactive in getting help for the person/family than watching something tragic happen and wishing you had done something.

Source: Farm and Ranch Family Stress and Depression, A Checklist for Making Referrals, Roger T. Williams, University of Wisconsin-Madison and Robert J. Fetsch, Colorado State University. Available at:


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(Chris Zoller is an agricultural extension educator in Tuscarawas County and a member of the OSU Extension DairyExcel team.)



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