The stresses of farming can lead to mental health challenges

Learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of high stress, depression and suicide to make the farming work place safer.

July 6, 2017 - Author: Suzanne Pish, Adam Kantrovich, Michigan State University Extension

Farming is stressful. In fact, it ranks in the top 10 most stressful occupations in the United States. Approximately 20 percent of farmers may suffer from depression. Statistics are unclear on suicide rate; however men on the farm today commit suicide nearly twice as often as other men in the general population.

Full-time farmers whose families rely on the farming income to provide for their family living have a significant amount of challenges they face in any given year. Farmers are reliant on the market prices for the products they raise. Any number of events can affect a farm’s income such as low commodity prices, geopolitical events, weather and diseases.  According to the USDA’s Economic Research Services farm income has continued to drop since 2013 and is down 50 percent since the 2013 year.

This year alone in Michigan and around the country, we have seen a variety events take place nationally: weather events that have wiped-out some of the fruit crops, significant drop(s) in commodity prices such as corn, soybeans, milk and other livestock commodities and the added stress of a labor shortage leaving farms unable to find the necessary workers needed to milk cows and harvest fresh fruit and vegetables. And all of this gets added on top of the stress of owning and managing a multigenerational family farm.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recently examined 130 occupations and found laborers and farm owners had the highest rate of deaths due to stress-related conditions like heart and artery disease, hypertension, ulcers and nervous disorder. It is important to know how to manage stress levels and to reduce the effects of unwanted stress. Too much stress can make a person more accident-prone. This is why it is important to identify common stressors, recognize the symptoms of stress and manage stress. By doing these three things, you will make the work place safer.

Michigan State University Extension RELAX: Alternative to Anger states that stress is a normal emotional response to the demands of life.  Everyone experiences it, and the results vary in intensity from being in a foul mood to more complicated illnesses. In fact, it is estimated by Family Development Resources, Inc. that 75 percent to 90 percent of all illnesses are stress related.

Are you or someone you know in the farming industry? Below is a list of signs/symptoms of depression and the warning signs of suicide.

Signs of Depression:

  • Change in routine
  • More colds or chronic physical conditions
  • May stop taking care of his or her farm or livestock
  • May experience more injuries due to fatigue or lack of concentration

Symptoms of Depression:

  • Decreased concentration, memory, and ability to make decisions
  • Feelings of sadness, anxiousness, emptiness, and restlessness
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness, and hopelessness
  • Fatigue, lack of energy
  • Angry outbursts, irritability
  • Issues with sleep
  • Issues with eating
  • Unexplained physical symptoms such as persistent aches and pains
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities or hobbies
  • Thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts

Warning Signs of Suicide (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention)


  • Being a burden to others
  • Feeling trapped
  • Experiencing unbearable pain
  • Having no reason to live


  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Looking for a way to kill themselves (e.g. searching online for materials or means)
  • Acting recklessly
  • Withdrawing from activities
  • Isolating from family and/or friends
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Aggression


  • Depression
  • Loss of interest
  • Rage
  • Irritability
  • Humiliation
  • Anxiety

If you or someone you know are experiencing symptoms of depression or have suicidal thoughts

  1. Reach out for help
  2. Remove whatever can harm you now. (e.g. firearms, knives, pills)
  3. Realize that you will die if you believe the lie. The lie is that suicide will solve all of your problems. You CAN find healthy ways to deal with the challenges.
  4. Turn to other activities – divert your mind.

Michigan State University Extension has been providing programs around the state on how to communicate with farmers and farm families in these times of stress. Contact your local Michigan State University Extension office for available programs or to request a program. The MSUE Farm Information Resource Management (FIRM) Team also works with farms to assist in financial analysis and options for the farm facing financial difficult times.

Website and material can be found online at Financial decision tools and resources along with contact information can be found at the FIRM Team website of .

This article was originally published in the July Digital First issue of Michigan Farm Magazine and the September print issue of the Michigan Farmer Magazine. 

Tags: agriculture, farm management, msu extension

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