Since 1949, May has been recognized as Mental Health Awareness Month thanks to organizations like Mental Health America and their many affiliates across the country. This month is a good time of reflection both personally and professionally, as many companies assess how they are creating a culture that promotes mental health.
Unfortunately, there is an audience for which the topic of mental health is still taboo to discuss: farmers and agriculture workers.
According to a study published in the Journal of Rural Health, suicide rates among farmers and agriculture workers were more prevalent than homicide rates from 1992 to 2010. Additionally, the report showed that with smaller farm operations with fewer than 11 employees, the odds of suicide were 1.7 higher than homicide. This is heartbreaking to learn.
We all experience work-related stress, but when your family’s income is determined by the weather or government policies out of your control, the level of stress can truly take a toll. Many of our team members interact first-hand with these growers who just need Mother Nature to give them a break so they can be profitable again.
So why is the topic of farmers struggling with depression and suicide still taboo to discuss in 2019? The short answer is that many farmers and agriculture workers still have the mentality that they just need to “be a man and deal with it.”
However, for those in the agriculture industry who want to seek help and improve the state of their mental health, there is hope. Some practical small steps to start implementing include getting good sleep, proper nutrition and exercise, including walks, yoga and meditation. While these practices may seem small, they are daily habits to get your mind in the right state.
In conjunction with incorporating daily, mindful habits, practice speaking out. Communication is key—start with honest, open dialogue with your family, friends and, eventually, with your community at large. In recent years, the Twitter hashtag #AgTwitter has become a community for those in the industry to connect across the country. While it’s used for farm equipment questions and advice, it also has been used (and can continue to be) as a platform to connect with others who need support during a challenging time.
Additionally, consider researching events, programs, or training online and in your closest city that could be beneficial. There are phone numbers, apps and support groups available. An article in Successful Farming shares great resources for farmers and ranchers to start seeking mental health help. If you would drive three hours for cancer treatment, isn’t the distance to seek mental health assistance just as important?
For many of us who are on the outside looking in, we can also do our part to break the stigma surrounding farmers and mental health. Let’s stop putting pressure on farmers and agriculture workers to “be a man, work hard and keep your head down.” When you see a farmer, genuinely ask them “how are you doing?”
This May—whether you’re working in an office or out on the ranch—let’s come together to raise awareness for mental health. Seek help for yourself and encourage others who need it.
To get involved in Mental Health Awareness Month, visit mentalhealthamerica.net/may. If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
—Candice Newton is coordinator of Occupational Health Case Management Safety, Health, Environment and Security for Nutrien and Nutrien Ag Solutions, headquartered in Loveland, Colorado.