Two in five rural adults say stress and mental health have become more of a problem in their communities in the past five years, according to a recent Morning Consult poll sponsored by the American Farm Bureau Federation.
Results were released at the beginning of May to kick off National Mental Health Month. The poll surveyed rural adults, farmers and farm employees to better understand factors affecting their mental health.
When asked about the causes of stress, a majority of farmers and farmworkers cited financial issues, business problems and fear of losing the farm.
“Farm stress is unique,” remarked Dr. Amy Johnson, a family nurse practitioner for Centra Medical Group in Bedford County and president of Bedford County Farm Bureau. “Factors causing stress such as weather, finances and commodity markets are out of the farmer’s control. Prolonged stress has a significant, compounded effect on mental health.”
Nearly half of rural adults say they are personally experiencing more mental health challenges than they were a year ago, and it seems to be worse for those ages 18-44. One in five farmers or farmworkers say they personally have sought care for a mental health condition.
“We all know how stressful farm life can be, and things are even tougher now because of the farm economy,” noted AFBF President Zippy Duvall. “This poll proves what we already knew anecdotally: Rural America is hurting not just economically, but also emotionally.”
Most rural Americans polled agreed that cost, social stigma and embarrassment would make it harder for them to seek help or treatment for mental health conditions. Three in four rural said it’s important to reduce stigma about mental health in the agriculture community, while two in three farmers and farmworkers said the same.
“Social stigma is a huge barrier to access to care for farmers, their families and employees,” Johnson explained. “Agricultural leaders need to take every available opportunity to talk about mental health so that this topic becomes mainstream and resources that are available are widely distributed. Those individuals that are struggling with mental health concerns need to see that they are not alone in their struggles, and they can feel comfortable reaching out for help.”