Agricultural producers are the backbone of America. They ensure everyone has access to safe, affordable, and accessible food, shelter, and clothing. This responsibility in combination with natural disasters, changing markets, and possible work injuries may lead to increased stress and decreased mental health in farmers and ranchers around the Southeastern US. Farm stress has been identified as a key indicator of mental health and substance use disorders with rural populations.
Agriculture is one of the top 10 most hazardous industries in the U.S.
- Farm owners, managers, and workers have the highest rates of death due to stress-related diseases like heart disease, high blood pressure, and ulcers. The profession also has the 4th highest rate of suicide of any profession in the U.S.
Markets are unstable, and farm income is decreasing, while debt is increasing.
- Fluctuating prices for crops and commodities, due to trade disputes, oversupply, and declining consumer demand, have caused financial losses for farmers, which can cause prolonged stress.
- Farmers are increasingly dependent on income from second, off-farm jobs for economic survival.
Natural disasters are devastating to farm businesses, farm families, and farming communities.
- Floods, storms, and wildfires that destroy crops, damage property, and kill animals can drive farmers into crippling debt or force them to leave farming altogether.
- The Backwater Floods of 2019 have claimed homes, farms, forests, and livelihoods for thousands of people in the Mississippi Delta. Even after the waters subside, recovery will take years.
- Farmers are the economic powerhouse of the rural Mississippi communities where they live. When disasters prevent planting or make it harder for farmers to buy new trucks, equipment, or even groceries, businesses in their communities suffer, too.
- Many farm workers are wage workers, and flooding inhibits workers from successfully carrying out the function of their job. This can lead to labor shortages and have an detrimental impact on the financial status of the agricultural producers.
Misuse of opioids is a concern in rural areas.
- Many farm-related injuries require prescription pain relievers, leading to potential misuse and substance use disorders.
- To avoid loss of productivity, farmers and farm workers often don’t take the time for proper treatment of or recovery from an injury. In these situations, an opioid pain reliever is often the quickest way to get back to work.
- Declining mental health and increased stress in farmers and ranchers in Mississippi acts as a catalyst, increasing the chance of suffering from substance use disorder and the possible misuse of prescription opioids.
To meet the needs of farmers, Extension has adopted the Mental Health First Aid program, developed in Australia and managed by the U.S. National Council for Behavioral Health.
Extension has certified instructors strategically placed throughout Mississippi, and Extension agents are trained to provide this support and assistance to the residents they work with. Extension’s century-long relationship of respect and trust with farmers and farm families makes our Extension agents uniquely equipped to provide this assistance.
To find out more about Extension’s work in this area, please contact David Buys, State Health Specialist or Mary Nelson Robertson, project coordinator.
RAYMOND, Miss. -- Edward Jenkins manages his family’s small farm in Grace, Mississippi. It’s property that has been in his family since the 1940s.
Like other farms, Jenkins’ family-run operation is a delicate balancing act of making the right decisions and dealing with issues that are beyond a farmer’s control, including weather and markets. It’s a high-pressure business.
Life can be overwhelming sometimes, and stress is a normal part of life. Too much unchecked stress can lead to physical and mental health challenges that must be addressed. Know the signs to watch for and learn what to do when you or someone you know needs help.
RAYMOND, Miss. -- The rollout of the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline offers more hope to individuals dealing with mental-health-related distress. That population includes farmers and farm workers, who are among those most at risk for suicide and mental health distress.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, male agricultural workers have the fourth highest suicide rate among men in all industries.
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- For Nathan Casburn, the land that has been in his family since the early 1900s is now more than simply his workplace.
The Tallahatchie County farm is a place of healing from an opioid addiction that began with pain medication prescribed after he was in a car accident during high school.
Casburn explained in a miniseries titled “On the Farm” that one of the biggest hurdles in his recovery was “saying I can’t do this on my own, and I need help with this.”
The Mississippi State University Extension Service PROMISE Initiative has two upcoming sessions in a webinar series that addresses farm stress, mental health and social structural issues affecting farmers and ranchers. The webinars will be held May 18 and June 15 at noon CST. They are part of the ongoing “R is for Rural and Resilient” series that began in November 2020.