The effects of stress on agricultural workers' health

Excessive stress can have detrimental impact your mental health, but there is hope and help. Don’t stop yourself from living a happier, healthy life.

A farmer in a soybean field examining her crops.

Like the constantly changing weather, farmers and commercial fishers are tasked with forecasting unpredictability. With the uncertainty farmers and the farming community face, the likelihood that you or a fellow farmer could experience the effects of this demanding yet rewarding occupation is highly likely. You may know a farmer who is struggling with stress, anxiety, depression, burnout, indecision or suicidal thoughts, or be experiencing them yourself. Would you know what to say or do if you were confronted with any of these situations? Do you know the resources available to help those in need? If you or someone you know are experiencing these feelings, you are not alone.

The good news is Michigan farmers, producers, commercial fishers and their families have resources to turn to for help. Through a partnership with Michigan State University Extension and Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services, farmers can connect with a licensed mental health therapist via teletherapy. Online counseling or teletherapy provides mental health and counseling services through the internet rather than in person.

Numerous factors may cause stress for farmers and others who work in agriculture. Many farmers are faced with unpredictable issues and concerns daily involving property, weather, animals, crops and injuries. The Cleveland Clinic breaks down the impact of excessive stress into physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms.

  • Physical symptoms of stress can include but are not limited to headaches, digestive problems, dizziness, muscle tension, backaches and high blood pressure.
  • Emotional symptoms may include feeling more anxious, angry, sad or hopeless and may lead to depression or other mental health conditions.
  • Often, people with chronic stress try to manage it with unhealthy behaviors, such as increased smoking, drinking or gambling. Stress can also disrupt sleeping and eating habits, such as sleeping too much or not being able to sleep and either over or under eating.

Sometimes people can even have thoughts of suicide when under prolonged stress. Warning signs of suicide can include a person talking about wanting to die or to take their life by suicide, withdrawing or isolating themselves, talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live or giving away prized possessions. If someone is showing signs of suicide, do not leave that person alone, call for help or take them to a hospital or healthcare provider. If you are unsure what to do contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255, where trained professionals who are there to help.

Whatever the symptoms are, talking to a trained therapist can help decrease the effects of stress, provide effective tools for coping during difficult times, and save lives. There are many key factors in controlling your levels of stress and maintaining your mental health but, having clinicians that genuinely care about and can empathize with their participants can be a great starting point.

“There is no better reward than seeing a person that was at low point in their life take control of their stress and get back on a successful track. We are grateful to be able to come alongside individuals to help them with that first step of accessing the needed services, and from there to implement the tools they learned and accomplish their goals.” – Tiffany Brannen, Central Access Supervisor, Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services

As farmers and commercial fishers, you cannot predict the future, but you can take control of how you manage your stress. There are supports to help you and your loved ones bridge the gap between stress and living a healthier, happier, and more fulfilling life.

Opportunities to connect

Michigan State University Extension’s many resources and information on farm stress can be found at the Managing Farm Stress website, access to the teletherapy pilot project MSU Extension Teletherapy and free online farm stress training such as Rural Resilience: Farm Stress Training. There you will find descriptions of programs such as Communicating with Farmers Under Stress and Weathering the Storm, as well as other articles, projects and resources. Learning self-awareness, signs and symptoms of stress, mental illness and suicide can better enable the farming community to support each other during trying times.

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