Rural mental health problems grow

New research released by Farm Bureau reveals that financial issues and fear of losing farm add to negative mental health.

May 3, 2019

3 Min Read
Rural mental health problems grow
A new housing development encroaches on valuable farmland in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed in Easton, Maryland.USDA photo by Bob Nichols

A strong majority of farmers and farmworkers say financial issues, farm or business problems and fear of losing the farm are afffecting their mental health, according to a new national Morning Consult research poll.

Sponsored by the American Farm Bureau Federation in recognition of May as Mental Health Month, the poll surveyed rural adults and farmers/farmworkers to better understand factors affecting the mental health of farmers, the availability of resources, perceptions of stigma, personal experiences with mental health challenges and other relevant issues.

“We all know how stressful farm life can be, and things are even tougher now because of the farm economy. More of us are affected, either directly or by having a friend or family member in distress. This poll proves what we already knew anecdotally: Rural America is hurting not just economically but also emotionally,” Farm Bureau president Zippy Duvall said. “Even as the rest of the economy has boomed, farmers and ranchers are in year six of a widespread commodity price slump. We can and must do more to address farmer stress and mental health issues in rural America.”

Mental health among rural adults and in rural communities is viewed as a growing problem. About two in five rural adults said stress and mental health have become more a problem in their community in the past five years (41%) and in the past year (36%). Nearly half of rural adults (48%) said they are personally experiencing more mental health challenges than they were a year ago. In addition, younger rural adults were more likely than older rural adults to say they are experiencing more mental health challenges now than a year ago.

Related:Minnesota Fed projects more farm stress ahead

Farmers and farmworkers surveyed said financial issues (91%), farm or business problems (88%) and fear of losing the farm (87%) affect their mental health. Other factors included stress, weather, the economy, isolation and social stigma.

A strong majority of rural adults (91%) said mental health is important to them and/or their family, while 82% of farmers/farmworkers said the same. Polling found that a majority of rural adults have either personally sought care (31%) or have a family member (24%) who has sought care for a mental health condition.

Three in four rural adults (75%) said it’s important to reduce stigma about mental health in the agriculture community, while two in three farmers/farmworkers (66%) said the same.

Large majorities of rural Americans polled agreed that cost, social stigma and embarrassment would make it harder for them to seek help or treatment for mental health conditions.

Related:Farmland values keeping farm economy afloat

Highlighting the need for awareness and training, the survey showed that farmers and farmworkers are less likely than rural adults in general to be confident that they would be able to spot the warning signs of a mental health condition (55% versus 73%).

Learn more about mental health challenges, such as suicide and depression, in Farm Progress stories that have previously appeared online:

"Farm stress challenges mental health"
"All the land between happy and sad"
"Why do farmers commit suicide?"
"10 truths about how farm families talk"

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