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Farm Safety & Health: May is Mental Health Awareness Month

May 20, 2022

Marion Barnes, Senior County Extension Agent

May is Mental Health Month, which can be a difficult subject to talk about with agricultural community members. Farmers carry heavy loads that can become whelming at times. Being a farmer in today’s world means wearing many, many hats. They have to be meteorologists, accountants, business managers, mechanics, soil fertility specialists, and the list goes on and on. Our farmers are facing some of the most stressful times, perhaps since the Great Depression. Historically high fuel and fertilizer prices, volatile commodity markets, supply chain disruptions, unpredictable weather conditions, and financial uncertainties add to elevated stress levels farmers must deal with daily. Many factors that affect agricultural production are beyond the farmer’s control. But decisions about your physical and mental health are controllable.

Farmers must be healthy both mentally and physically to succeed in today’s agricultural environment. When one or the other is not functioning fully, your business will likely suffer. Ignoring signs of your equipment not working correctly can lead to costly breakdowns and downtime. If a warning light or symbol on your tractor comes on, you stop to check it out. The same thing must be done when you see warning signs of mental stress. Ignoring signs that mental health may need a tune-up can lead to a loss of productivity and may negatively impact family life and your relationship with others. When someone is experiencing signs of stress or mental health challenges, they may not realize it. It’s essential to recognize the early warning signs that affect your body, your actions, your emotional life, and your relationships with family members, employees, and others.

Physical symptoms: You may experience aching muscles, shortness of breath, stomach and digestive issues, and fatigue. Become aware of the signs and signals of stress your body is trying to relate to you.

Emotional symptoms: Farm families work together to keep the farm running smoothly, but stress negatively impacts individuals and the operation of the farm. Early warning signs of emotional stress include frustration, impatience, increased irritability over small issues, angry blowups, depression, difficulty controlling emotions, and withdrawal from family members.

Behavioral symptoms: Stress causes some people to have trouble relaxing, concentrating, making decisions, or sleeping. These symptoms may become distracting and lead to a farm safety incident and injuries or fatality. Stress may lead to lifestyle changes such as smoking or excessive alcohol consumption, or eating too little or too much. Being unable to adapt to changing circumstances is another behavioral symptom of stress.

Relationship symptoms: In a farming community, individuals from families work together. Often these relationships work out well, but at times difficulties may arise. Sometimes individuals may become competitive or envious, leading to serious problems and the necessity of intervention by family members. Lack of good communication skills can lead to severe family conflicts, strained relationships, arguments, marital dissatisfactions, physical and verbal abuse, or even separation or divorce.

By being able to recognize early warning signs of stress, farmers and their families can begin to manage stress levels and improve their physical and mental health.

Information for this article was taken in part from the following resource: Stress Symptoms, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Leaflet 284, R.J. Fetsch, Professor & Extension Specialist, Dept. of Human Development & Family Studies, Colorado State University, Reviewed by Sean Brotherson, Family Science Specialist NDSU Extension Service.

For more information on farm stress and mental wellness, contact your local Clemson Extension Office or check out the following farm stress management resources:

https://www.clemson.edu/extension/agribusiness/farmstress/resources.html

https://www.scfb.org/farmstress

Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or family status and is an equal opportunity employer.