The Challenge of Rural Stress

Farm families face multiple levels of stress every day.

The Challenge of Rural Stress

Stress has become a fact of life for farm families. Several factors are behind this: low commodity prices; the shifting international trade outlook; and damage and obstacles created by storms, floods, and other natural disasters. There’s added stress this summer in Scotts Bluff and Goshen counties from the loss of irrigation water to more than 100,000 acres of crops due to the collapse of the Goshen/Gering-Ft. Laramie canal tunnel. But there are resources to help farm families address problems caused by stress.

Stress can be positive, giving us a competitive edge.  However, when that stress turns into negative distress, it is no longer healthy for our well-being.  In rural areas, many are subject to stresses and distress resulting from agriculture.

Farming is among the most stressful jobs in America, based on factors that affect a farmer’s financial, physical, and mental health, according to John Shutske, professor and extension specialist at the University of Wisconsin – Madison with over 30 years of experience with the agricultural community.

A 2016 study showed that people involved in agriculture have the highest overall rate of suicide among all occupational groups, with their suicide rate being almost 60% higher than the next closest industry.  Farmers may refer to themselves as “full-time gamblers,” a fitting title. Complex factors such as markets and weather are impossible to control directly, and these influence the livelihood of a farmer.

Shutske says stress is a double-edged sword. A little stress can serve as a constructive motivator, pushing us to action. However, too much stress can damage our health, compromise safety, and sabotage personal relationships. It reduces our capacity to consider and evaluate optional solutions to complex problems and can limit our power to make sound decisions. Stress can also manifest itself as a vicious cycle with escalating consequences that can paralyze business owners or their families.

When somebody shows symptoms of stress, such as moodiness, anger, loneliness, anxiety, lack of energy, sleep deprivation, low self-esteem, constant worrying, forgetfulness, overeating, or increased use of alcohol or drugs, it might be time to talk to someone about it.

If you or someone you know needs help with stress management or would like to talk to someone confidentially, Nebraska has some great resources:

  • Rural Response Hotline (from Nebraska Legal Aid) offers free no-cost vouchers for confidential mental health services for persons affected by the rural crisis. They also offer information about farm mediation clinics. Call 800-464-0258.
  • Farm Mediation is a way to resolve disputes involving farm loans and other issues. Call 402-471-4876.
  • The Nebraska Resource and Referral System (NRRS) lists toll-free numbers, websites, and email contacts to help you connect faster to the services you are seeking. 

Here are some other resources taken from a webpage created collaboratively by Nebraska Extension and University of Wyoming Extension to share resources for those affected by the Gering-Fort Laramie Canal break.