Our farmers face complex challenges every day. They do dangerous, backbreaking work over excruciatingly long hours. They have a strong love for family and for their land. And they take great pride in contributing to our national and local economies by providing jobs as well as a reliable and safe food supply. Unfortunately, we’re also seeing a rampant mental health crisis in our farming communities. In fact, farmers are committing suicide at alarming rates, more than double that of veterans, and currently higher than any other occupation in the US.
Beyond the normal stresses of running a farm during strong economic times, there are a number of factors over recent years that have contributed to this mental health crisis. We are experiencing a prolonged recession in agriculture with six consecutive years of depressed farm income. This is primarily due to falling commodity prices, which is largely out of farmers’ control, and a major burden is given already razor-thin profit margins.
According to Matt Perdue, the National Farmers Union Director of Government Relations, added pressures and negative impacts on global markets due to recent tariff wars have heightened mental health problems in our rural communities. Add in extreme weather patterns like flooding or early snowfalls, and what we’re seeing are huge increases in bankruptcies and foreclosures.
Beyond difficult economic conditions, other factors involved in mental health issues among US farmers include social isolation and either an unwillingness or inability to seek mental health services. Preventative mental health and behavioral services are often not available in rural communities, or they’re unaffordable. In addition, stigmas continue to surround therapy treatment. But this can change.
We saw a huge crisis in the 1980s, after which systems like confidential crisis communications systems began to be developed. In 2008, the National Farmers Union was one of many agriculture groups that urged Congress to pass the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN). The bill passed in 2008 but was unfunded until 2019 when it has finally seen its first limited funding of $2 million. The goals of this pilot program include creating a diverse, regional network of member organizations; developing farmer assistance programs in each region; and educating teams in each region about resources that respond to farmers in stress. In the future, funding should provide support to network partners to expand these services. Most recently the bi-partisan Senate appropriations bill, “Facilitating Accessible Resources for Mental Health and Encouraging Rural Solutions for Immediate Response to Stressful Times (FARMERS FIRST),” will provide an additional $8 million for mental health resources.
The Rock Block believes we must acknowledge and address this mental health crisis in our rural communities. We fully support our farmers and believe we need to remove stigmas attached to seeking mental health services.
Contact your friends and experts at The Rock Block for more information on how we protect our exceptional farmers. We understand the safety needs of farmers because we are farmers. Visit us at 225 Main Street South in the heart of Bristol or call us today at 605-492-3641.