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Survey shows impact of pandemic on rural mental health

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

According to a poll by the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly affected farmers and rural workers. In fact, more than half of those surveyed say they are experiencing more mental health challenges now than they were a year ago. 

                  The AFBF survey was conducted by Morning Consult in December 2020, polling 2,000 rural adults. The survey looked to identify the main obstacles to seeking help or treatment for a mental health concern, finding trusted sources for information about mental health, understanding the impressions of mental health in rural communities and the importance of reducing stigma surrounding mental health. 

Key findings

                  The survey found three in four rural adults say mental health is very important to them and their family. However, 51 percent of rural adults are more likely to say mental health is a major problem in urban communities compared to 37 percent in rural communities.

                  Half of rural adults surveyed think people in their local communities attach at least a fair amount of stigma to mental health, while 44 percent think the stigma is also related to seeking counsel or treatment for mental health issues. 

                  Over 75 percent of rural adults believe it is important to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health in agricultural communities. In fact, 59 percent say it is very important. 

                  The survey shares younger rural adults are more likely to be very confident in spotting warning signs of a mental health condition, compared to older generations. Although, 73 percent of rural adults are at least somewhat confident they would notice signs. 

                  Cost, availability, accessibility, stigma and embarrassment are all barriers to seeking help, the survey says. 

                  Rural adults are most likely to trust their primary care doctor for information on mental health, followed by family members and faith-based counselors. Additionally, more than two-thirds of adults share they would be comfortable talking to their primary care doctor, closely followed by therapists or counselors, family members and close friends. 

                  Compared to a similar survey in 2019, the percent of those who would be very comfortable talking to a therapist or counselor increased eight percent, while the percent of those who would be comfortable talking to a support group decreased 19 percent. 

                  The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted people differently – 53 percent say the pandemic has impacted their mental health at least some, while 44 percent say their mental health hasn’t been impacted much at all. Although, 66 percent of farmers and farm workers say COVID-19 has impacted them. 

                  Increasing eight percent from the 2019 survey, 45 percent of rural adults say stress and mental health have become more of a problem in their communities in the past year. Financial issues, fear of losing the farm, an uncertain future and the state of the farm economy are the top issues those surveyed say impact mental health greatly. 

                  While more than half of rural adults and farm workers say they are personally experiencing more mental health challenges this year, only one-third have sought counsel or care. 


                  “My takeaway from this survey is the need for support is real, and we must not allow lack of access or a ‘too tough to need help’ mentality to stand in the way,” says AFBF President Zippy Duvall. “We are stepping up our efforts through our Farm State of Mind campaign, encouraging conversations about stress and mental health and providing free training and resources for farm and ranch families and rural communities.” 

                  “The pandemic added a mountain of stress to an already difficult year for farmers and they need to know sometimes it’s OK not to be OK, people care and there’s help and hope,” he continues.

                  AFBF is hosting a session during the 2021 Virtual Convention titled Farm State of Mind – Responding to the Challenges of Rural Mental Health on Jan. 12 at 11 a.m. Eastern time. 

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

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