Educator highlights mental health awareness in agriculture
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) BeefWatch podcast welcomed Wayde Pickinpaugh, a Nebraska Extension educator, on Jan. 9 to discuss an article titled “Breaking the Stigma of Mental Health Among Producers” in the January UNL BeefWatch Newsletter.
Breaking the stigma
Agriculture is a rewarding business, but it does come with stressors – weather, cattle, grain prices, debt, etc. It’s important to recognize the value a person brings to an operation compared to the markets, number of acres one owns or the number in a bank account.
According to the article, farmers and ranchers tend to struggle with a lack of routine and are constantly dealing with the unknown, making farming and ranching difficult. Pickinpaugh mentions producers tend to push through these adversities without giving themselves grace.
“We would never hesitate to go and talk to a market specialist, cattle buyer or veterinarian, so why are we hesitating to go get help ourselves?” she says. “It’s OK to push ourselves through stressful times when necessary and keep going, but not when it’s time to get help.”
She adds, “It’s important to get help. Farmers, ranchers and producers don’t have to have a mental health issue to get help and go talk to someone.”
Pickinpaugh notes it’s okay to be stressed, but she encourages producers to do what they can and set reasonable expectations. Additionally, it’s important for producers to remember they do the best they can for their family and operations.
“Producers should keep this in the back of their mind – we are doing the best we can, and it’s not always going to be easy,” she says.
Pickinpaugh mentions data from Miller and Rudolphi, published in 2022, shows production agriculture workers are ranked fourth in male suicide. She encourages others to know when it’s time to ask for help and when to sit down to talk to someone and learn ways to manage stress.
A few ways one can reduce stress is by finding someone to talk to, whether it’s a spouse, neighbor or friend – someone who can help provide a different perspective, help with reflection on current struggles and to have someone who can simply listen.
“Getting professional help is one of the hardest Band-Aids to rip off, but know when it’s time to do so,” she says.
In agriculture, a common phrase among the ranching and farming community is “there are no days off.” Livestock will always need fed, but Pickinpaugh encourages producers to find time to take breaks and to take care of their physical and emotional health.
She advises producers to focus on what can be controlled and try to relax and manage stress during peak stress seasons. She notes it takes a constant discipline and practice, but it can be done.
In addition, she encourages producers to plan ahead, set priorities and have open discussions with others on the operation to divide tasks.
Learning how to recognize stressors and how to manage stress can not only help the farmer, rancher or producer but can help those around them as well.
“If a person recognizes someone in distress, use a caring approach, listen and connect them to resources,” she says.
Stress looks different on everyone. Pickinpaugh mentions this may be when someone is no longer acting like themself. According to 2019 data from Harris-Broomfield, individuals should empower people to ask for help but know when it’s time to reach out with help.
“There are a lot of resources out there where one doesn’t even have to be in person – make a phone call, talk to someone on the phone, and they can provide some different steps one can take during a time of struggle,” she says. “Agriculture has always been a hard business to be in with a lot of fulfillment – whether it’s putting food on the plate for our families or the nation, but it does come with a lot of stressors. So, it’s important to get help when needed.”
Pickinpaugh says being a listening ear can go a long way. Everyone manages their struggles differently, so sometimes being empathetic is the best thing one can do for their family member.
Some people who are in distress or depressed may not realize they are or may even be in denial. Family members can encourage them to speak to a professional if necessary.
“Multiple layers of stress can be difficult to overcome. We are potentially not our best selves while enduring this current climate of stress,” Pickinpaugh mentions. “People need to be kind to themselves and gracious of others. If symptoms of anxiety or depression last longer than two weeks, or if a person notices a family member or friend pulling away from work processes, talking with others or isolating themselves, connect them to a resource.”
Finding resources and using them are really important.
She notes, “It’s what’s going to help us, our families and the people around us.”
Brittany Gunn is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.