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AFBF shares importance of keeping mental health in check in agricultural industry

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Agriculturalists have been through a lot this year, from trade wars and natural disasters to the loss of processing facilities, from low commodity prices to supply chain backlogs, all on top of a global pandemic. It is hard to consider what else might be added to the list of stressors for farmers and ranchers. 

In a recent Farmside Chat podcast presented by the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), AFBF President Zippy Duvall discusses rural mental health concerns and resources with California Farmer Tara Beaver Coronado and Colorado Farm Bureau Executive Vice President Chad Vorthmann. 

“On the farm, there are circumstances to give us plenty of stress and opportunities to panic and wonder what is going to happen to our farm or think about whether or not we are even going to be able to continue farming,” shares Duvall. “Mental health is something we shield ourselves from because producers are tough. We don’t want to admit we are having any problems, and there is a stigma that goes along with it and makes it difficult for a farmer or rancher to admit they are having difficulties.” 

Duvall notes this is about honest conversation and caring about others. 

Flip the table

Coronado, a vineyard owner and rural mental health advocate, has personally experienced rural stress and works to provide outlets on social media for others. 

“My mental health journey started before I started farming myself,” she says. “In 2012, my dad was in a really terrible farming accident, and I found myself in a state of constant anxiety and panic.” 

“I’m really lucky to still have my dad, but the anxiety follows me,” Coronado continues. “I never opened up or talked about it until 2015, after losing my grandpa. I was dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and my anxiety was worse than ever, on top of farm stress.” 

Coronado explains once she started talking about her stress and anxieties, she realized there were others in her area who felt the same way. Sharing the issues she was facing and what she was going through was helpful, she says. 

“In farming, there’s more of a stigma to get over it, so no one is talking about it,” she says. “By not talking about it, no one realizes other people are going through similar issues.”

“I feel like farmers and ranchers will drop everything to help each other, but they don’t want to ask for help,” Coronado continues. “We have to remember to turn the table and realize our friends would do the same for us.”

“When we have friends in need, we are open and supportive,” she notes. “Flipping the table is a powerful gift. Often, we feel like we are a burden or feel we need to toughen up and quit complaining. But, if our friend came to us to vent, would we tell them they were a burden?” 

Coronado stresses the importance of giving oneself permission to be open about stresses they are facing in their lives. 

“It makes us so strong to be able to share our heartache and the rough patches we go through,” she says. “It is easier said than done. If we don’t want to talk to anyone we know, there are numerous anonymous platforms out there for our use.” 

“We have to take care of our mental health, just like we would take care of our physical health,” Coronado concludes. 

Resources available

“Right now there is a lot of stress across the country,” says Vorthmann. “There are a lot of components of stress we need to talk about in rural America, including issues leading to divorce, family stress and substance abuse, to name a few.” 

Vorthmann notes we need to focus on strengthening rural communities, starting with stresses unique to agriculture. 

“The issues we deal with in agriculture are unique to farming and ranching,” he shares. “We not only have the need to provide for our families and the stresses that normally come with any job, but we also have generations of responsibility on our shoulders.” 

However, Vorthmann shares stress itself is not unique to agriculture. He believes in this industry, people need to be better about communicating that it’s OK to talk about things weighing on their mind and reaching out for help to do so. 

“I’ve heard someone say, ‘When the going gets tough in agriculture, we pull up our bootstraps and just move forward,’ and the statement ends further conversation,” he shares. “There’s a stigma that says we can’t talk about mental health in agriculture, and I think we have to change it.” 

The Rural Resilience Program and the Farm State of Mind Program produced by Farm Credit, AFBF and the National Farmers Union provide agriculturists free resources for learning how to manage stress, anxiety and depression along with information on how to identify someone in the community who is struggling. Both programs provide conversation tips and more from mental health care professionals.

“I think these are some of the greatest programs Farm Bureau does,” says Vorthmann. “They really get to how we can be a part of the solution and be a part of something every single day.” 

“We aren’t made to face this life by ourselves,” says Duvall. “That’s why God gave us good friends, and friends are there for us in the good times and in the bad.” 

The Rural Resilience Program can be found at farmcredit.com/rural-resilience and the Farm State of Mind Program can be found at fb.org/programs/farm-state-of-mind/.

Averi Hales is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to roundup@wylr.net.

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