During National Mental Health Awareness Month this May, Virginia Farm Bureau Federation and other agricultural organizations are reminding farmers, farmworkers and rural residents that resources are available when they need help.
Farmers in Virginia and across the U.S. are under increasing stress as they face unique challenges daily. In addition to the physical demands of the job, farmers contend with natural disasters that can devastate crops, fluctuating commodity prices, trade disruptions and price increases that can weigh down even the most resilient.
And that’s on top of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has in the past two years exacerbated the issues.
“Agricultural producers are proud, strong people, and we should be because we do amazing things,” said Joshua Fleenor, a Cumberland County cattle farmer and member of Virginia’s Farmer Stress Task Force. “We’re the backbone of this country, but even the backbone needs a brace every now and then.”
To help focus on farmer stress, agriculture groups and programs like the task force developed by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services work to raise awareness of mental health issues within agricultural professions, reduce stigma and help provide access to resources.
“We don’t always go looking for help, and I think that just compounds over time and can lead to some pretty unfortunate things happening,” Fleenor noted.
Fleenor, who has battled depression himself, encourages farmers to rely on their support networks, friends, family and fellow farmers when struggling.
“It’s OK to sometimes reach out for help when you need it … there’s no shame in it,” he said. “As much as we’d like to do everything by ourselves, we just can’t.”
In addition to talking with others, Virginia farmers and rural residents can find a variety of resources on VFBF’s farm safety website, including links to a Mental Health First Aid course, other programs and Virginia-based mental health organizations. Virginia’s community service boards also can help recommend appropriate services.
American Farm Bureau Federation’s Farm State of Mind website also contains a directory of stress and mental health tools, including tips for helping someone in emotional pain and starting a conversation; links to register for free online farm stress training; and ways to manage stress, anxiety or depression. The site also contains a state-by-state directory of resources and programs.
“The more we can get people in the agriculture industry who are willing to speak and talk about their experience … the more it lets that next person know, ‘Hey this ain’t just me,’” Fleenor said.