In a place as rural as Iowa, farmers are the backbone of many industries statewide, but they are also one of the most vulnerable populations when it comes to mental health.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story contains discussions of suicide and self-harm that may be disturbing to some. The above video was originally released in August 2022.
In a place as rural as Iowa, farmers are the backbone of many statewide industries, but they are also one of the populations most vulnerable to mental health issues.
According to 2020 data from the Centers for Control and Prevention of Disasters.
As farmers enter their off and winter season, Seasonal Affective Disorder is in full swing for many Americans, Dr David Brown with the Iowa State University Extension for Farm and Ranch Wellbeing says now is as good a time as any for farmers to keep tabs on their mental health.
“We know that about 6 to 10 percent, especially individuals in northern climates, like Iowa, may be somewhat affected by SAD,” Brown said. “So yeah, it’s prime time.”
What drives farmers to struggle with mental health and suicidal ideation?
According Brown, some of the factors contributing to farmer suicide rates are part of larger trends.
“One is kind of a very simplistic reason: most farmers are men. And men have a lot higher suicide rate than females. And so that’s a key question,” he said. “We also know, in rural parts of the state, [they] probably have a bit more access to guns. And so that’s part of it. We know that farmers generally, generally, use guns to die by suicide.
Rural suicide deaths are higher than city statistics, with non-metro rates averaging 20.5 per 100,000 and central metropolitan deaths totaling just 10.9 per 100,000, according to the CDC. .
Some causes are more specific to the agricultural industry, with many farmers viewing their work as part of their culture and heritage. The thought of losing that part of themselves can be detrimental to their health.
“Because farming is such an important part of their identity, we know that the loss of a farm, or any type of physical disability, a physical illness that allows them not to farm is also a significant risk factor for suicide,” Brown said.
With predominantly rural men making up the population and an abundance of physical and mental stress present in the industry, farmers are placed in a sticky situation that they may not feel comfortable discussing.
“Tthere’s also, you know, the stress of isolation, the kind of self-reliance that farmers have,” Brown added. “And not wanting to ask for help when they might benefit from it.
This covert trend is especially prevalent when it comes to substance abuse issues, which Brown says can be common when farmers can’t work due to injuries, leading to drug or alcohol addiction and higher rates. high depression.
“We know that farmers across the country have sometimes gone out and found other substances to help manage this pain, and opioids are, obviously, becoming a key issue,” he said.
For progress to be made, Brown urges farmers to do more than just endure, even when it’s hard.
“It’s probably not the best thing for them to do. They probably need to ask for and get help and seek help – not just for health care, but also for their care. mental health,” he said.
What is Iowa doing to fix it?
Some of Iowa’s leaders are strong supporters of helping farmers’ mental health, with numerous laws passed in recent years aimed at addressing farmers in crisis.
In August 2021, Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig partnered with Iowa State University to help fund and expand their outreach program, including a $500,000 grant to expand Farmer mental health support programs in Iowa.
Senator Joni Ernst’s bipartisan FARMERS FIRST Act added funding to state departments, extension services, and nonprofits from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) USDA in 2019.
The money was intended to “establish helplines, provide suicide prevention training to farm advocates, create support groups and re-establish the farm and ranch stress support network.”
Where is help available?
There are many resources for farmers and their loved ones to find help across the state.
Free personalized counseling through Farm Family Wellness is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by calling 1-833-999-FARM (3276) or joining a live chat here.
ISU’s outreach program offers free lessons of 30 minutes or more to educate farmers and their families about stressors, emotional regulation and mental health management called “Stress on the Farm”.
Another resource is IowaCrisisChat.org, which offers live chats with trained medical professionals from 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily.
Here is a list of hotlines:
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