Owning and operating a farm or ranch can be stressful. You face a unique set of farming challenges, putting you at risk for mental health issues. From baling hay to planting, farming is hard physical labor sunup to sundown. Not only is it tough on the body physically, it can be emotionally difficult, too.

Your livelihood depends on many factors: the weather, time management, shifting commodity prices and more. Long-term farm stress can take a toll on farmer health and wellness and can even lead to depression in farmers. Changes in a person’s mental health status don’t typically happen overnight. There are some early signs of trouble. Here are four to look for.

  1. Feeling Anxious or Depressed
    Sometimes anxiety and depression can present themselves in surprising ways, such as irritability, emotional outbursts, fatigue and nausea. It’s normal to feel exhausted after a long day or worried about financial stress, but if you’re experiencing an ongoing sense of hopelessness that doesn’t seem to abate, that could be a warning sign of deeper issues.

  2. Trouble Sleeping
    Insomnia can be an indicator of intense stress. A sleepless night or two is normal, but if you have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep — especially after an exhausting day — for three nights a week for three months or longer, that could be a sign of chronic insomnia and it could lead to other health issues.

  3. Dramatic Changes in Weight
    Unintentional weight gain and weight loss can signal that something might be amiss with your health, either physical or mental. Make an appointment with your physician for a check-up; if all appears fine, it’s possible that severe stress could be having an adverse effect on your body.

  4. Substance Abuse
    Whether it’s excessive alcohol consumption or heavy drug use, there’s a significant link between substance abuse and depression. Often, those struggling with their mental health use drugs and alcohol to self-medicate as a coping mechanism. If you think you or someone you know might be at risk for substance abuse, it’s important to reach out and get the help you need.   

Get Help

Hard times can bring an inordinate amount of stress, leading to mental health issues in farmers. If you recognize these signs in yourself or others, take action to improve the situation. Recognizing the connection between farming and mental health can save your life or a loved one’s.

Some small steps to implement include creating a community of support, checking in on fellow farmers and seeking professional help when you feel things are out of control or if you feel helpless and hopeless.

  • Create a Community
    Take the time to talk and connect with fellow farmers. It could be a faith-based community or just a group of folks that meet at a coffee shop to commiserate and compare notes. It’s important to listen and show empathy. Many experts suggest that listening non-judgmentally and with care and concern can be very helpful.

  • Recognize the Problem
    Don’t avoid the problem. It’s important we work to remove the stigma around mental health. It’s OK to talk to someone and ask for help or ask someone to listen.

  • Keep These Resources Handy
    There are lots of resources for farmer support available that you can use and share with your fellow farmers. Visit these websites for additional information:
    Iowa Farm Bureau
    'Farm State of Mind' (American Farm Bureau)
    National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
    Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)