By Susan Harlow, editor
These are undeniably stressful times for farmers.
Not every farm family undergoes stress in traumatic economic times, nor is stress necessarily bad. “What for one family may be a catastrophic event may be a minor setback for another,” said Randy Weigel, Extension specialist at the University of Wyoming, in a conference call sponsored by the Center for Dairy Excellence.
Yet suicide and help hotlines report sharp upticks in usage, Weigel said.
Ranchers and producers in hard times may respond in one of three, increasingly serious, ways: stress, depression or suicidal thinking. They’re not caused only by financial crises, but by any disaster. High Plains ranchers, for instance, have suffered under several blizzards during spring calving season. In fact, farming is one of the top 12 occupations with stress-related experiences, Weigel said.
Stress can deplete your energy, affect your relationships with others and cause illnesses such as ulcers, Weigel said.
(Farm and Ranch Family Stress and Depression: A Checklist and Guide for Making Referrals may be found at:
Some signs of depression that producers may show include:
• Change in routine, such as not going to church or dropping 4-H.
• A rise in illnesses such as colds.
• A decline in farmstead’s appearance.
• A decline in the quality and care of livestock.
• More farm accidents.
• Children who also show signs of stress, such as problems in school.
In fact, children are often the first to show signs of crisis in a family, Weigel said. Studies of Iowa farm families in the 1980s showed that financial stress led to marital conflict and a resulting decline in quality of parenting. Children can lose hope, become isolated and afraid of divorce, homelessness or violence. Younger children may have temper tantrums or cling to their parents; school-age children suffer academically, have problems sleeping and may be sullen and defiant. Adolescents may drink or use drugs and neglect their appearance.
That’s why it’s so important to maintain a strong relationship with your spouse, if you’re married. Keep lines of communication and be willing to ask for help, Weigel said. Your children need you.
Depression is a serious mental illness, a persistent mood disorder that may range from mild to severe and affects 10% of Americans. And 50 to 65% of those cases go untreated, even though depression is a highly treatable illness, Weigel pointed out. Untreated, though, depression may lead to suicide.
Some signs of depression:
• A sad mood, loss of pleasure in normal activities, changes in appetite, difficulties sleeping, lethargy and suicidal thoughts.
But remember, Weigel said, these symptoms may also have other causes, such as changes in medication.
Male depression is especially complex, because men’s sense of self worth is often tied to their ability to provide. “We need to make men feel needed as people, not just wallets. Men are more likely to commit suicide when their wallets are empty,” he said.
Although women are more likely to attempt suicide, men are four times as likely to succeed, Weigel said. A potent combination for suicide is a mental condition combined with feelings of extreme helplessness. Indications that someone may be considering killing themselves are:
• Withdrawing from family and friends
• Loss of interest in everyday life, such as animals
• Talking about suicide
• Substance abuse
• Changes in mood; rage
• Making arrangements
How should you respond to someone who appears suicidal? Weigel said to take your concerns seriously. Be direct but nonjudgmental .Stop by; be willing to listen. Get help if it seems urgent. Weigel recommended several resources, among them the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-SUICIDE. Or go to: http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
Many land-grant universities are also offering help for farmers under stress. They include:
• Colorado State Extension: Anger, managing stress, living through transitions
•North Carolina State Extension: Family communication
•University of Minnesota Extension: Taking care of self
•North Carolina State Extension: Recovering from disaster