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Mack: Stress impacts ag families

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Agriculture businesses report higher deaths by suicide than any other business, reports Brenda Mack, a licensed mental health professional and farm wife in Minnesota. 

Mack, along with fellow mental health professional Shauna Reitmeier, is seeking to help farmers and their families recognize and minimize the stresses that lead to depression and suicide. 

Stress defined

Mack defines stress as a fact of nature in which forces from the inside or outside world affect the individual’s emotional or physical wellbeing or both. Though stress is often thought to be negative, and can be, it can also be positive or neutral. 

“In agriculture, it is easy to become stressed because we have little to no control over many aspects of the business” says Mack. “To minimize stress and ultimately depression, we have to focus energy on the things we can control.”

“Stress can be a positive thing,” Mack comments. “When stress provides opportunities with a good outcome, it can motivate us to complete tasks. This type of stress is a surge of energy to get something accomplished, such as ensuring chores are done in time.”

Mack defines negative stress as situations seen as a threat or those where the outcome may be poor. 

“When we look at negative stress, we see insomnia, mood changes, distraction, withdrawal and increased use of alcohol,” according to Mack. 

Causes of stress

Due to the highly unpredictable nature of agriculture, there can be a lot of stressors associated with the occupation, according to Reitmeier. 

“With farming, the weather, input prices and commodity prices are all completely out of our control,” says Reitmeier. “These factors can directly impact the survivability of the operation.”

Other stressors Reitmeier mentions are commonly associated with the farm are regulations, farm transitions, insurance and even family issues. 

“Thoughts affects feelings, and feelings affect behavior,” says Mack. “Negative thoughts, though caused by stressors, can be a stressor themselves as they can begin to effect our outward emotions and behaviors.”

These stressors can also cause snowball effects. Reitmeier mentions an example of a farmer who has turned to drinking and gets a ticket for driving under the influence (DUI). The initial stress is now coupled with the financial burden of paying for the fees associated with the DUI.  

Coping with stress

Mack and Reitmeier agree that the steps involved in coping with stress begin with self-awareness. Realizing stress is no longer positive allows for more productive coping. 

“Effectively coping with negative stress can help us think more clearly, feel happier and have more energy,” says Mack. 

Implementing healthy coping strategies is crucial in dealing with negative stress, according to both Reitmeier and Mack. 

“Healthy eating, drinking water and sleeping well are all things we can do to positively cope with negative stress,”

Reitmeier also stresses the importance of having solid relationships and people to talk to when feeling stressed. 

“Think about how long the list of people is that we would answer their call at three in the morning,” says Reitmeier. “We need to make sure we have designated people who we know would take our early morning or late night calls.” 

Mack suggests using more individual strategies each day to minimize stress and negative thoughts. 

“At the end of the day, we should write down three good things that happened to us,” says Mack. “Don’t think of it as a chore and write the same thing everyday, think of things that were truly positive.”

Resources are available for those who are feeling depressed or having suicidal thoughts. The Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.  

Reitmeier and Mack are featured in a series of webinars sponsored by the University of Minnesota Extension. The webinar series began in December and will continue through the spring of 2019. 

Callie Hanson is the assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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