Facing farm stress: May was mental awareness health month

Tim Christensen and Larry Tranel
Iowa State University Extension and Outreach
Ag Life

AMES, Iowa — Families who make their living on farms often are exposed to situations beyond their control, causing them to experience exhaustion and distress. At any time, unstable prices, weather, crop or livestock disease, or equipment and communication breakdowns may make the reality of farm living difficult to deal with.

“May (was) Mental Health Awareness Month,” said Tim Christensen, farm management specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. “Farm stress certainly may affect mental health and it’s OK to acknowledge the stress you may be facing.”

Farm stress compounds already tough farm decision making, as high levels of prolonged or acute stress inhibit concentration, planning, calculation, and many skills that are necessary for the profitable management of a farm and the healthy functioning of the farm family, Christensen noted.

“When experiencing high levels of stress, be mindful of the following symptoms — shallow breathing, irritability, anxiety, sleeplessness, memory and focus loss — to name a few,” added Larry Tranel, Extension dairy specialist.

Individuals who are stressed often feel they do not have time for the things most necessary to manage the stress — deep, relaxed breathing; adequate exercise and healthy eating; meaningful relationships; and using higher reasoning to overcome negative, protective emotions often exhibited during distress, Tranel explained.

“During this mental health awareness month and throughout the year, be mindful of your own mental health needs and the needs of those around you,” said Christensen.

“We can all make a difference by watching out for one another. You never know when a friend, family member, neighbor or community member may need assistance,” said Tranel.

If you would like to be better prepared to help someone in need, ISU Extension and Outreach offers two options.

  • “Question.Persuade.Refer” is a one-hour virtual course that teaches participants how to recognize the warning signs of a suicide crisis and how to question, persuade and refer someone to help. For more information or to register, go to https://www.extension.iastate.edu/humansciences/QPR.
  • “Mental Health First Aid” is a six-hour virtual course with an additional two-hour self-study pre-course. This training, which is more in-depth, provides participants the skills they need to reach out and provide support to someone who may be developing a mental health or substance use problem and help connect them to the appropriate resources. For more information or to register, go to https://www.extension.iastate.edu/humansciences/MHFA.

Both courses are available to anyone wanting to make a difference in their communities. For more information, contact Christensen at tsc@iastate.edu or Tranel at tranel@iastate.edu.

More resources

  • Iowa Concern: This program, offered by ISU Extension and Outreach, provides confidential access to stress counselors and an attorney for legal education, as well as information and referral services for a wide variety of topics. With a toll-free phone number, live chat capabilities and a website, Iowa Concern services are available 24 hours a day, seven days per week at no charge. To reach Iowa Concern, call 800-447-1985; language interpretation services are available. Or, visit the website, www.extension.iastate.edu/iowaconcern/, to live chat with a stress counselor one-on-one in a secure environment. Or email an expert regarding legal, finance, stress or crisis and disaster issues.
  • Farmstress.org: This program, offered by the North Central Farm and Ranch Assistance Center, shares available resources and research in a convenient, easy-to-access location. The website lists resources by state, including Iowa, and topics, including crisis numbers, telephone hotlines and training resources. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Those in crisis should visit their local emergency department or call 911 immediately.