farmer mental health

Blessings and burdens: The struggles of being a farmer

From hay baling to calving to planting, farming is hard physical labor from sunup to sundown. But what many don’t take into consideration is how emotionally difficult farming can be.

Managing a working farm can lead to depression, anxiety, marital strife, financial stress, and addiction. According the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) data, suicides among farmers are 1.5 times higher than the national average.

Farmers face multiple challenges including weather, markets, input costs, the pressure of producing more food with minimal impact on the environment, health care costs, tariffs, and property taxes.

A tough row to hoe

Farmers are used to facing tough times. The Great Depression began for farmers shortly after World War I and continued through the 1920s, hitting farming families hard with soaring machinery costs and rapidly descending farm prices. Despite this, farmer suicides didn’t get much attention until the 1980s farm crisis, which resulted from two droughts, a national economy in trouble, and a government ban on grain exports to the Soviet Union.

Signs of depression in farmers

While depression presents differently in everyone, here are some common signs:

  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of interest in activities or work
  • Expressions or feelings of worthlessness
  • Nausea
  • Muscle cramps
  • Clammy skin

Leading causes of depression for farmers

  • Addiction. The strong link between excessive alcohol consumption and depression is well-documented, and self-medication — whether with alcohol or drugs — can be a coping mechanism for struggling farmers.
  • Debt. When a farm struggles financially because of weather, family crises, or overall poor financial management, hopelessness or panic can set in.
  • Divorce. During parts of the year, farming is a 24/7 job. These demanding conditions can take a toll on marriages and lead to divorce, which adds yet another layer of stress. The risk of suicide among people who are divorced is 2.4 times that of those who are married. And divorced men are nine times more likely to die by suicide than divorced women.
  • Injury or illness. Agriculture is hard physical labor, so it’s not uncommon for farmers to injure themselves or skip a doctor’s appointment because it’s harvest time. Unfortunately, those injuries and illnesses can stack up until they become incapacitating or impossible to ignore, leading to lost time on the farm, financial burden, and then to depression and anxiety.

Mental health resources for farmers

Treatments for addiction, mental illness, and resources to improve your financial well-being are constantly evolving and improving. If you need help or know of someone who needs help, reach out.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline also provides free and confidential emotional support in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Call 1-800-273-8255.