Mercer researchers release results of farm stress study
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Lily Baucom
MACON, Ga. – Researchers at the Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center (GRHIC) at Mercer University, with assistance from the Georgia Foundation for Agriculture (GFA), have released their study, “Farmer’s Mental Well-Being Project: Statewide Survey Report.”
The study showed that 29% of farmer workers, owners and managers had thought of suicide in the past year. Among first-generation farmers, 60% said they had suicidal thoughts in the past year.
The survey, conducted from Jan. 1 to April 30, drew 1,651 responses. All but two of Georgia’s 159 counties had at least one person respond.
The principal investigators were Mercer University PhD candidate Stephanie Basey and Dr. Anne Montgomery, a biostatistician with the GHRIC. The GFA, affiliated with Georgia Farm Bureau, aided in promoting the study and collecting data. Each of Georgia Farm Bureau’s 10 districts, 14 to 17-county regions across the state, had at least 100 survey respondents.
“Challenges creating significant stress for farmers have drawn increasing attention in recent years, and the Georgia Foundation for Agriculture was happy to partner with Mercer and the Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center to find out just how widespread the issues are,” GFA Executive Director Lily Baucom said. “While we all agree more examination is needed, we hope this study will help us find ways to improve the landscape for farmers’ mental well-being.”
The study quantifies what many in agriculture have long known – farming, with so many factors outside the farmer’s control, comes with extraordinary stress. The survey showed 96% of farmers are either moderately or highly stressed. In addition, 40% of farmers felt lonely at least once in the last month, 49% felt sad or depressed and 39% felt hopeless.
“In the months leading up to this research, we heard about things like farmer-specific trainings and mental health trainings for farmers, but there’s no real data to show what that training needs to look like, and so we thought to inventory our farmers to find out what is going on,” said Basey, a PhD candidate in the Mercer University School of Medicine’s (MUSM) Rural Health Sciences program. “What are the stressors that impact them directly or maybe even in their community? That was the base of this, with the hope to, working with the Georgia Foundation for Agriculture, develop that farmer-specific training with the input of our farmers.”
In addition to suicidal thoughts, the survey measured sources of stress, activities farmers use to cope with stress, and access to professional help for mental well-being.
“There was a scarcity of literature, and what literature there was focused mainly on suicide,” Basey said.
Montgomery said the group wanted to generate data to help explain the alarming rate of farmer suicides noted in 2018 documentation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which counted 50.7 suicides per 100,000 farmers, more than triple the rate (14.9 per 100,000) measured in all industries.
“Long-term exposure to stress negatively impacts physical and mental health, and in turn this leads to development of stress-related disease and disorders,” Montgomery said. “So the bulk of our study was to develop an inventory of stressors and coping mechanisms among farmers. We were hoping to develop some tailored interventions to improve mental well-being of farmers and we will be working on that.”
Survey participants were presented a wide array of stressors and asked to identify which ones affected them. The two most common were home/work life balance and weather. For each of those, 61% said they were moderately worried, worried a lot or extremely worried. Following those stressors were COVID-19 impact on income (59%), saving for retirement (59%) and unexpected financial burdens (59%).
The respondents were asked to identify the ways they manage their stress. The most common, noted by 39% of respondents, was exercise or walking, followed by talking to family or friends (31%), engaging in a hobby (28%), drinking alcohol (27%), watching TV or reading (27%) and sleep (22%). In addition to drinking alcohol, survey participants said they use cannabis (5%), other illicit drugs (4%) and over-the-counter drugs (2%).
Visit www.georgiaruralhealth.org/farmworkersurvey/ to access the final report and to access the results of a pilot study done in 2021.
About the Georgia Foundation for Agriculture
The Georgia Foundation for Agriculture (GFA) is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization, founded by the Georgia Farm Bureau in 2014. We are dedicated to preparing the next generation of leaders for success in Georgia agriculture. The GFA works with Georgia Farm Bureau and other Georgia agricultural and educational organizations to achieve its mission. The foundation offers scholarships to students pursuing agricultural careers, funds leadership development programs and projects that increase the public’s understanding of agriculture. Visit www.GaFoundationAg.org for more information.
About Georgia Farm Bureau
Founded in 1937, Georgia Farm Bureau is the state’s largest general farm organization and has 158 county offices. Its volunteer members actively participate in local, state and national activities that promote agriculture awareness to their non-farming neighbors. GFB officers its members a wide variety of benefits, including insurance, but enrollment in any of the member benefits is optional and not a requirement for membership. Visit www.gfb.org for more information.
About the Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center
In 2018, Georgia lawmakers dedicated special funds to establish a new Rural Health Innovation Center tasked with confronting the complex health care challenges and wellness disparities facing rural communities. Mercer University School of Medicine (MUSM) was awarded the grant funds in 2019 and formally established the Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center on its Macon campus. MUSM boasts a longstanding commitment to serving rural Georgia’s health needs, with a mission to educate physicians dedicated to tackling the health challenges in rural Georgia. The Rural Health Innovation Center serves as a critical resource to rural communities to improve access and effectiveness of health care by offering research, collaboration, and training opportunities.