The month of September is a big month for transitions, the kids are fully back in school, holidays are around the corner and things on the farm are getting a lot busier with harvest season nearly upon us. With all the busyness, it is even more important to prioritize mental health and wellness. September was National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, but we can still use this time going forward to pause and reflect and check in with family, friends and neighbors, especially in a time of constant motion.

Sadly, many of us have been affected by the tragedy that results when a friend or loved one loses hope. According to the CDC, suicide is at a record high, losing nearly 50,000 people in 2022. This number is staggering, especially in our rural communities, where farmers are three to five times more likely to die of suicide.

Farming is one of the most demanding jobs and there are a lot of factors that drive extreme stress and anxiety. Farmers and ranchers take on a lot of jobs at once, and we pride ourselves in our quiet strength. But that stress builds up like a pressure cooker and then you reach a point where something has to give. Instead of seeking help or prioritizing mental health before there’s a crisis, some can get to the point where they feel like there is no solution.

As farmers, we have strict timetables as far as planting, feeding, and animal care, and everything else that must get done on time. Farming isn’t a 9 to 5 job, with weekends and holidays off. Many of us live on our farms too, so we never really get a break from the stress. It’s always right outside our front door. When something goes wrong--the markets take a turn, prices go up, or bad weather strikes--it’s our responsibility to find a way to keep the farm running, and that weight gets heavy. No farmer wants to see the family farm go under on their watch, especially if you’re running a farm that has been in your family for generations.

According to AFBF’s research on rural stress in 2019, nearly half of rural adults (48%) said they were personally experiencing more mental health challenges than they had been a year ago. And with everything that has happened since then, we can assume that stress has only increased. hope. Farming can often be isolating work, on top of all the stress. Think about it: we work with animals who don’t talk back, machines that don’t work and then tough decisions fall on us when things get hard.

We also have seen that even though there is a growing understanding that mental health is important, farmers are reluctant to get help because of the stigma that falsely implies they are weak or can’t handle it all. Many farmers feel embarrassed at the idea of someone seeing their truck at a counselor’s office or parked at the church to meet with the pastor on a Wednesday morning. They shouldn’t. In reality, it’s a sign of strength. Honestly, it’s a gesture of love toward family and friends when a person seeks help before giving up. We must change the narrative so that everyone sees that it’s OK not to be OK. No one should be left feeling that they have to go it alone.

To break the stigma around mental health, it also takes living by example and showing each other that no matter how difficult it is for you, and no matter what you're going through, someone is there for you. Check in with your family, your friends, and your neighbor down the road. The more we show up for others, the more they understand it’s okay to talk through the stresses they are going through. Sometimes people never know how much we care until we show them. Even simple acts like showing up and checking in could end up saving a life. So let’s take that first step, being ready to listen, and even ready to steer someone to additional help, such as a counselor, doctor or the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988.

Rural mental health has been a priority for AFBF since 2018. We saw the need to identify and share information about available resources for stress and mental health in farm country. Building on past partnerships, AFBF formally began managing the Farm State of Mind campaign in 2020. The purpose of Farm State of Mind is twofold - to increase awareness and reduce stigma regarding mental health challenges for farmers and ranchers, and to increase access to information, resources and training for farm and ranch communities. Today, our partnership with Farm Credit and National Farmers Union continues with our free, on-demand Rural Resilience Training.

This challenge is going to take all of us and I’m pleased we are making progress. Our most recent survey, last fall, showed that 75% of rural adults and 66% of farmers/farmworkers say it’s important to reduce stigma about mental health in the agriculture community. This same poll showed that a majority of rural adults have either personally sought care or have a family member who has sought care for a mental health condition. And while this is good progress, the work isn’t done. We must keep promoting mental health, to ensure no one is lost or goes another day feeling alone.

Let’s not let September be the only time we stop and reflect on suicide prevention. It’s time to create regular conversations around mental health, build accountability in our community and even establish healthy coping mechanisms for our personal mental health. It’s going to be hard, but as scripture tells us, when we support one another and carry each other’s burden, we find peace.