With this being a rural community, most of us probably know at least one farmer. The weather this year and current commodity prices has stress levels running high on many farms. While we all deal with stress fairly regularly, difficult times in farming can cause an excessive amount of stress that is hard for someone to process. Most farms are a family business which has its own stressors such as being able to provide for one’s family and keep a farm that has been in the family for several generations afloat. There are also many factors that affect farms for which they have no control over. I mentioned weather and commodity prices which are the big ones but farmers also deal with disease and pest issues, working with family, consumer perceptions, machinery breakdown and so on.
There are a few warning signs to look for in loved ones that may indicate an undue amount of stress is affecting an individual. Being able to assess the situation accurately may help prevent a more serious situation. Jinnifer Ortquist with Michigan State University Extension outlines the warning signs of stress in “How to Talk with farmers Under Stress” available at MSU’s Managing Farm Stress website.
- Look for changes in emotions such as a decrease in energy or show of enthusiasm for the future, depression or loss of humor.
- Changes in attitudes or cognitive skills such as frustration over small things or having trouble making decisions could indicate high stress levels.
- Changes in behavior that indicate an issue might show up in missed meetings with coworkers, friends or businesses, difficulty sleeping or becoming quieter than usual.
- All of these can culminate into changes on the farm through a lack of care for animals or crops, themselves or carelessness in general.
What can you do to help? Being there to listen, and I mean really listen, can go a long way in helping the person deal with and process what they are going through. Ortquist suggests using the following questions and statements while listening:
- I hear you saying ____ (repeat back the main concerns the farmer is expressing).
- This sounds like a lot to manage. How are you coping with this? (or, What are you doing to take care of yourself?)
- It sounds like the current situation is very difficult. What can I do to support you?
- These are some tough challenges. How can I help?
- Would it be helpful if we work together on an action plan for how to manage your concerns?
- Every situation is different. In a similar situation on another farm, they tried ____. What do you think about that?
- Are there other people who have been helpful or supportive when times have been tough in the past? Are any of those people able to help now?
She also recommends showing empathy rather than sympathy. The difference here is, when practicing empathy, you make an effort to understand what the person is going through and then talk to them about ideas that may help them work through their feelings or the situation. For farmers, this could be helping them come up with a long term plan to keep the farm in working order or recommending someone who can help with this goal. This may be another farm who has been through a similar situation, financial advisors or the Extension Office.
If conflict does arise, remain calm and continue to listen. Avoid placing blame on anyone. Talk about what you are trying to achieve and repeat statements back to the farmer to ensure you understand what they are saying.
Lastly, always follow-up with the farmer after your conversation and continue to check in and listen. If you believe the person is in eminent danger, directly ask them if they have had thoughts of suicide. This is uncomfortable but better than the alternative. Call 911 and get help from family and friends.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK or text “4hope” to 741 741
Logan and Champaign Counties Suicide Prevention Coalition: https://www.mhdas.org/suicide-prevention-coalition.html. Crisis Hotline: 1-800-224-0422
Source: Ortquist, Jinnifer. How to Talk with Farmers Under Stress. Retrieved 6/25/2019 from https://www.canr.msu.edu/resources/how-to-talk-with-farmers-under-stress