Farm stress drawing attention of state and national leaders
By Jay Stone, Georgia Farm Bureau
A pair of events in May – National Mental Health Month – demonstrated that while farmers’ mental health challenges continue, there is increasing awareness of those challenges at the state and national levels.
On May 19, the University of Georgia hosted the Farm Stress Summit in Tifton, and on May 31, the USDA and U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock held a town hall-style meeting in Musella, hosted by Dickey Farms and Musella Baptist Church.
The Farm Stress Summit offered presentations from American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) Communications Director Ray Atkinson, UGA School of Social Work Professor Dr. Anna Scheyett and Mercer University researchers Dr. Anne Montgomery and PhD candidate Stephanie Basey.
Montgomery and Basey discussed their study this spring on farm stress in Georgia. The study is expected to be published soon.
The UGA Farm Stress Summit also featured a workshop in which participants considered communications approaches and audiences that might be targeted for messaging on mental well-being.
Atkinson traced AFBF’s work since 2017, focusing first on the national opioid crisis and later on farmers’ mental well-being. AFBF realized early in its work on opioids – which grew into the Farm Town Strong campaign – that the topic was not the organization’s forte and that it was so broad that collaboration would be required.
“AFBF - we are not a behavioral health or a mental health or public health organization,” Atkinson said. “The strength that we have is our network of state Farm Bureaus, county Farm Bureaus and volunteers.”
Using those networks, the organization focused on messaging, communications and encouraging conversations to reduce stigma, Atkinson said, and the Farm Town Strong campaign served as a model for how AFBF could approach mental health concerns.
On May 31, Warnock and USDA Deputy Secretary Dr. Jewel Bronaugh met with farmers and representatives of various agricultural stakeholder groups at the event in Musella.
“It’s important to make them aware of what’s really going on with some of the stresses that agriculture has to put up with and also I hope it got stressed to him how important food security is and the fact that if you lose your producers, you’re going to lose your national security,” said Georgia Farm Bureau President Tom McCall, one of the representatives of ag stakeholders who participated in the conversation with Warnock. “If you have to import all of your food, you’re in a vulnerable state.”
Warnock briefed attendees on Congressional passage of funding for the Farm Stress Assistance Network and praised the Georgia General Assembly for passing HB 1013, the Mental Health Parity Act, which is aimed at helping Georgians access affordable mental health and substance use disorder treatment.
“Mental health care is health care,” Warnock said. “There's no question farming is a tough job. There are not a lot of factors completely in your control, and yet you show up, day after day after day.”
Bronaugh recognized Dickey and the fact that his family's farm is a multigenerational farm.
“That's a lot of pressure,” Bronaugh said. “You don't want to be the generation to not pass it on.”
Warnock and Bronaugh listened to producers’ concerns and ideas about ways the federal government can help alleviate stress among Georgia farmers. A big part of the message, Warnock told reporters, centered on financial pressures and the increasing difficulty farms are having with profitability.
“Farmers lay awake at night worrying about paying back loans, paying back all these inputs that are going sky high, and commodity prices are not necessarily following it,” McCall said. “That’s the mental stress of it. And then when you work seven days a week, there’s a physical stress that goes along with it.”
Signs a farmer or rancher
may be at risk
• Changes in their routines or social activities
• Decline in the care of their domestic animals
• Increase in illness or chronic conditions
• Increase in farm accidents
• Decline in appearance of farmstead
• Decreased interest in activities or events
Source: Farm State of Mind (https://www.fb.org/land/fsom)
Mental health resources
If you or someone you know are in distress, help is available here:
• National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (988 after July 16) or
• Georgia Crisis & Access Line: 1-800-715-4225 or
• AFBF Farm State of Mind: www.fb.org/land/fsom
• Rural Georgia: Growing Stronger – www.gfb.ag/ugaextensionstresshelp