Mental health addressed
Casper – The 28th Annual Wyoming Women in Ag’s (WIA) Women’s Ag Symposium was held Nov. 21 in Casper. Several speakers shared their knowledge in a variety of topics in agriculture. During the symposium, Lesley Kelly, the keynote speaker, discussed breaking barriers in mental health awareness.
During the symposium, Kelly explained what mental health looks like for her and what she believes can be done to help support rural communities and producers.
Metal health versus mental illness
Kelly shared it’s important to talk about and recognize what mental health is – the better it is understood, the more society can feel confident and encouraged to start conversations.
Unlike what social media shares, Kelly noted mental health and mental illness are not the same. These terms are used synonymously, but they mean different things.
“According to the World Health Organization, mental health is state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities that can make a contribution to their community and cope with normal stressors of everyday life,” said Kelly. “On the other hand, mental illness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions and disorders which affect mood, thinking and behavior. This includes illness such as schizophrenia, anxiety and depression.”
Mental health is not a choice, she said, but rather a part of a person’s makeup. A person can have good mental health, but still be affected by a mental illness. Kelly shares it’s important to recognize signs and symptoms of mental health issues.
Mental health in agriculture
In a recent study Kelly shared, 35 percent of respondents – who were farmers and ranchers – met the definition for experiencing depression, whereas 45 percent of respondents were experiencing high stress, 60 percent were experiencing anxiety and 40 percent of farmers and ranchers felt uneasy about seeking professional help.
Kelly noted she finds it encouraging that 60 percent of farmers and ranchers would seek professional help.
“It’s been reported that farmers are two to five times more likely to die by suicide than the general population,” shared Kelly.
It’s important for producers to have resources and community support in an effort to help them through tough times.
Starting a conversation
Kelly shared, farmers and ranchers hesitate to communicate mental health concerns because of potential risks that can affect their livelihoods.
After Kelly and her family shared their story and struggles surrounding mental health in a recent YouTube video, the support was life changing and lifesaving. Kelly noted the risks she was concerned about never happened.
“Her husband Matt shared his struggles and I shared mine,” she explained. “The response we had from across agriculture was nothing that we have ever imagined. It was actually quite the opposite.”
She continued, “What we had was a flood of e-mails, texts, phone calls and messages from people saying, ‘Hey, me too, I know that pain. I know those hard seasons and I felt I didn’t know what to do, where to go or who to talk to.’”
Through their experiences, the Kelly family worked to develop strategies in breaking barriers surrounding mental health in agriculture.
Key points to remember
“The first thing I’ve learned is mental health is different for everyone,” said Kelly. “My mental health is different and what might work for you might be different than what might work for me, but it’s knowing that we’re all different on this journey.”
Kelly encourages having conversations about mental health when emotions or behaviors become intense, especially when behaviors begin to negatively impact relationships, job duties and day-to-day activities.
Other symptoms individuals may experience include: avoiding social situations, irritability, changes in eating and sleeping patterns, overwhelming anger, worthlessness and sadness.
Starting a conversation may be hard and uncomfortable, but Kelly stressed it is imperative when these symptoms are noticed.
Successful tips for starting a conversation
Kelly shared an example of conversation could look like this: “Is everything OK? It’s been a busy week. I’d really like to catch up. Do you want to go for a drive or a walk? And how are you doing?”
These questions may feel hard and uncomfortable, she added, but can help someone through a hard time.
“Silence hurts. Silence is pain,” Kelly says. “These simple statements are lifesaving.”
Kelly encouraged everyone to show kindness, empathy and compassion to their peers in agriculture. Having an understanding of what a person is going through can help them through pain and can make the world of a difference, she shared.
She encouraged those struggling to make themselves a priority to rest, recover and recharge.
“Share what you see, show you care, listen and above all, take time to rest and share with family and friends when times are hard,” she said.
“By having these conversations – asking, talking and listening – it is possible to make a world of a difference for someone going through difficult times,” Kelly concluded.
Brittany Gunn is the editor at the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.