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Farmers opening up about mental health amidst pandemic

Posted at 10:17 PM, Jan 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-07 23:17:01-05

CENTRAL TEXAS — The pandemic has created some rough times for us all, but not everyone is comfortable with talking about their mental health struggles from these past two years.

With mounting pressure to meet market demand and worries over skyrocketing input costs, it's no surprise farmers have had an increased sense of stress during the pandemic.

"Anxiety is up. Fatigue and exhaustion is up," said Vince Erickson, public information officer for Heart of Texas Behavioral Health. "Grief has gone up. These things can play upon mental and behavioral health."

Adapting to our "new normal" hasn't been easy for everyone. Mental health experts want people to know that there's no shame in seeking out help.

"So what do we do? Let's have a conversation about it," said Erickson. "And it's okay to not be okay because right now, look at what's going on out there right now."

Those conversations are happening more frequently among farmers, according to a new poll released by the American Farm Bureau Federation. People involved in agriculture showed a greater initiative to discuss their struggles with family and professionals last year versus 2020.

"The numbers are going down as far as someone's unwillingness to talk about these kinds of issues. Stigma is going down," said Shelbie Lambert, outreach education coordinator for UT-Tyler.

The poll responses indicated that financial issues and weather were major contributors of stress in farmers. The American Farm Bureau Federation is using the poll, conducted for the past three years, to determine the impacts of COVID-19 on the well-being of farmers. They also hope to come to some solutions about how to offer help.

While progress is being made, it's clear from the polling that there is still a stigma in agriculture surrounding medical care for mental issues. It's a notion that therapy would appear "weak" next to the "tough" image of farming and ranching.

"If there's anything to describe those in agriculture, it's 'strong,' "independent.' They've overcome a lot, they've come a long way," said Lambert.

The research found that while overall stress in farmers is up from 2020, nearly half of the respondents said they were more likely to seek help from a professional than they were a year ago. The American Farm Bureau Federation has set up a network of resources for anyone looking for mental care, called Farm State of Mind. You can find a link to that on our 25 News app.