Resources to Support Farmers and Ranchers Dealing with Stress
Stress has become a fact of life for farm and ranch families. Several factors are behind this: High supply costs and climbing farm debt, the shifting outlook for international trade, and damage caused by drought, wildfires, and severe storms with damaging winds and hail.
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 people are impacted by the negative aspects of stress and chronic distress, resulting from challenges unique to the agricultural industry.
Farming and ranching occupations are among the most stressful jobs in America, based on factors that affect a producer’s financial, physical and mental health, according to John Shutske, professor and extension specialist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Shutske has over 30 years’ experience working with the agricultural community.
Suicide rates among people working in agriculture are some of the highest when comparing across occupational groups (Peterson et al., 2020). Complex factors such as markets, long work hours and weather are often uncontrollable, and these factors can have a significant influence on the livelihood of farmers and ranchers. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to amplify the issues that already exist and contributes to increased stress.
Shutske said 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, irritability, loneliness, anxiety, lack of energy, sleep deprivation, low self-esteem, constant worrying, forgetfulness, overeating, or increased use of alcohol or drugs, don’t be afraid to talk with them about it. Listen to the person about whom you are concerned. It is important not to pass judgement on what the person is sharing. Instead, offer hope and let them know you care.
It is also important to find a sense of community and reach out for support (Henning-Smith et al., 2022). Being part of a community can provide a sense of belonging, feeling supported during difficult times, and can provide a sense of purpose. Most importantly, it is important to find people they can connect with, which can be very helpful for dealing with stress.
If you or someone you know needs help with stress management or would like to talk to someone confidentially, resources are available:
- 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 or visit the Rural Response Hotline website to learn more.
- Nebraska Farm Negotiations uses mediation as a way to resolve disputes involving farm loans and other issues. Call 402-471-4876. (Nebraska Department of Agriculture)
- 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.
- Call or text 9-8-8 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
The following resources are from a webpage created collaboratively by Nebraska Extension and University of Wyoming Extension.
- Resources to Help Families and Children Cope with Stress (Nebraska Extension)
- Rural Family Stress and Wellness (Nebraska Extension)
- Nebraska Community Action Agencies
- Nebraska Extension Disaster Education
- Nebraska Family Help Line: 888-866-8660 (Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services)
- CDC Disaster
- The Wyoming Behavioral Institute: 24-hour hotline 1-800-457-9321
Carrie Henning-Smith, Andrew Alberth, Andrea Bjornestad, Florence Becot & Shoshanah Inwood (2022) Farmer Mental Health in the US Midwest: Key Informant Perspectives, Journal of Agromedicine, 27:1, 15-24, DOI: 10.1080/1059924X.2021.1893881
Peterson C, Sussell A, Li J, Schumacher PK, Yeoman K, Stone DM. Suicide Rates by Industry and Occupation — National Violent Death Reporting System, 32 States, 2016. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020;69:57–62. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6903a1external icon.