Culture supportive of mental health
In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published data on suicide rates by occupation from 2012 to 2015. It was one of a few articles that attempted to summarize suicide rates by occupation. This data showed that farmers, ranchers and other agricultural managers had a suicide rate higher than the general population.
This report ignited a conversation about mental health in rural America, and the agriculture industry responded well on a large scale. For example, the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN) was revived in the 2018 Farm Bill and funded with $25 million in support of regional and state programs and helplines. Although these are great resources, rural families, farms and communities still have the opportunity for progress on a much smaller, more personal scale.
Create a supportive culture on your farm
Discussions about mental health challenges probably don’t happen as often as they should in the farming sector and can be uncomfortable when they do. Creating a culture on your farm that is open to discussions of mental health challenges doesn’t happen quickly. It takes time to cultivate and starts with the farm’s leadership. If the manager or owner shows an openness to discuss these topics and a willingness to be vulnerable in sharing personal experiences, employees are more likely to share their stories.
Another way to help create this kind of farm culture is through simple things like sharing a meal together regularly or having coffee together during a team meeting. These acts can subtly build trust and friendship among employees.
Recognize a mental health challenge
Everyone has mental health just like we all have physical health. The state of one’s mental health is a sliding scale, and each individual constantly moves along that scale in one direction or the other.
As with physical health, prevention or early intervention of a mental health challenge is more ideal than treatment of an acute challenge. Thus, it’s crucial to be aware of signs and symptoms of extreme stress, both in ourselves and those around us, and to be intentional with finding healthy and productive ways to relieve that stress.
Finding healthy and productive outlets to relieve stress is important to maintaining good mental health.
Have a comfortable discussion about mental health challenges
When addressing these behavioral changes in someone else, ensure you do so with a one-on-one conversation and in a private area. Then listen intently to what is said.
Refrain from sharing a similar experience or trying to provide a solution right away because, unintentionally, this minimizes their struggle by turning the focus to you. Rather, keep the focus on them and their specific situation. If the situation merits, you also can connect them to helpful resources and suggest a counselor who is professionally trained in helping people work through these challenges.
For example, the Wisconsin Farm Center’s Farmer Wellness Program offers trainings, farmer support groups and counseling services. The center also operates the Farmer Wellness Hotline 888.901.2558, which is free and open 24/7. For a suicide emergency, dial 988, which is dedicated to route callers to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You also can dial 911.
When it comes to mental health on-farm, taking proactive steps to create a farm and family culture where honest conversations can happen will ensure everyone’s safety and wellbeing.
This article was originally written for the November 23, 2022, issue of Progressive Dairy. Click here for the original article.
About the author: Brock Irwin is a Vita Plus dairy specialist. He grew up on his family’s dairy farm, R-Vision Holsteins, in Belvidere, Illinois, and has been involved in numerous dairy industry activities. As a show ring enthusiast, Irwin has successfully bred and exhibited many of his own cattle at various local, regional, and state shows. He also has numerous internship experiences with Golden Oaks Farm, Rolling Lawns Farm and World Dairy Expo. Irwin earned his bachelor’s degree in dairy science from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.