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Working Together to Address Farmer Well Being and Mental Health - Audio article

Every day, farmers and farm families face financial challenges, demands of the job, and changes outside of their control that impact their lives and livelihoods. Market volatility for inputs and outputs, access to labor, challenging weather conditions, and the pressure to grow and modernize are underlying drivers of this occupational stress.

Coping with these daily challenges can lead to chronic stress. This stress impacts farmers’ mental and physical well-being, relationships, and decision-making. A 2019 survey conducted by the American Farm Bureau Federation found that mental health is an important issue to 82% of farmers/farm workers or their families. In addition, farmers and farmworkers are at a higher risk for death by suicide. In a recent analysis of suicide risk factors among farmers in the Midwest US, researchers Bjornestad, Cuthbertson and Hendricks, found that agricultural producers have higher rates of psychological distress, depression and anxiety compared to the general population. Wisconsin farmers are 1% of the population and make up 2% of the suicides in the state, according to Sara Kohlbeck, Director of the Division of Suicide Prevention at the Medical College of Wisconsin. Kohlbeck’s research has noted issues leading to this rate, including lack of access to services, stress from physical health issues, ready access to lethal means, and the overall stress of farming. Farmers have cited obstacles of cost, embarrassment and awareness of mental health to be a barrier in seeking treatment.

With the growing recognition of farm stress and mental health and well-being, several efforts to address this have been established in Wisconsin. The University of Wisconsin’s Division of Extension has partnered with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade & Consumer Protection (DATCP) to bring federal farmer mental health funding to Wisconsin from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) as part of a multi-state North Central Region. As a participating recipient of this federal grant, Wisconsin is receiving $400,000 to create educational programs to help people identify farmers in emotional stress, educate on farmer wellness. The Resilient Farms and Families website offers education and resources on farmer wellbeing and mental health. The site developers are designing a map and populating resources for farmers by county. Extension has also received a Rural Opioid Technical Assistance grant to offer Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) and other behavioral health education to rural and farming communities.

Issue: Nov 2022
By: Joy Kirkpatrick