Mental Health in Agriculture Industries

Clint Thompson Alabama, Coronavirus, Florida, Georgia

Agriculture industries have had to adapt to a lot of change in recent months. The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) has created a series of professional development webinars to help these industries navigate the global pandemic.

Mental health in rural communities was the focus of a webinar series put on by UF/IFAS.

The most recent session of the six-part webinar series featured a panel focused on mental health in rural communities. The panelists discussed strategies to recognize a person in crisis and resources to address mental health concerns. According to Megan Stein, the host of the series, rural mental health was the most requested topic in the data that was collected to create this webinar series.

Limited Health Care Access

Oftentimes, when a grower’s livelihood is at stake, he or she may face the same mental health setbacks as those living in urban areas. However, many individuals work in agriculture live in rural areas where there is limited access to health care.

“Actual incidents of mental health problems in rural areas are really not so different. You don’t necessarily see significant differences. It’s not like in rural areas things are way worse or anything like that. I think some of the stressors are different, but more importantly I think it’s just a lot harder to access help when you live in rural areas,” says Heidi Radunovich, associate professor in the UF/IFAS Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences.

Even though advancements have been made in remote health care, there are still setbacks in rural areas with limited cell service and Wi-Fi, which can make it difficult to receive remote care.

Marshal Sewell, territory sales manager for Bayer and webinar panelist, believes that it’s important to create the right messaging connecting mental health and growers. According to Sewell, many farmers or individuals in rural communities find it difficult to open up to someone who doesn’t share a similar background or circumstances. He says finding that commonality or appropriate messaging could make a world of difference.

Available Resources

Let’s face it, farming is a stressful job — even in good times. The COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic turmoil compounds the daily stressors. Farmers, ranchers and rural community members need appropriate resources to help manage their own stress and support their friends and neighbors.

Luckily, resources are available. The American Farm Bureau Federation has launched the Farm State of Mind campaign, reducing the stigma surrounding the topic of mental health in rural communities. The campaign also provides helpful resources regarding mental health for farm families.

In addition, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Alliance on Mental Illness are proactively working to provide relevant resources to rural communities.

The panel participants also stressed the importance of managing day-to-day stress by taking time for yourself. This includes exercising, reading a book, meditating or any activity that allows you to take a step back from daily stressors.

Isolation on the farm is real. We need to be aware of our neighbors. Practicing active listening and having a conversation with each other may be the only way to reach someone who is dealing with mental health issues. By listening and understanding, we can create change.

Ashley Robinson, AgNet Media communications intern, wrote this article.