The Farmer’s Line Between Stressed and Depressed

This article was originally published in The Journal  on April 1, 2019.

For many people living in temperate climates, there is a feeling of relief that comes with the change of the seasons from winter to spring.

In fact, according to Mental Health America, five percent of the U.S. population experiences seasonal affective disorder (SAD or seasonal depression). People diagnosed with SAD often experience symptoms of depression, anxiety, sleep problems, lethargy, weight gain, and/or social difficulties that are caused by reduced levels of serotonin and increased levels of melatonin. Both can be related to fewer hours of light in the day. Seasonal affective disorder subsides when light hours increase and life returns to normal for these individuals.

People in all lifestyles experience varying moods related to stress and environmental conditions. Some are completely normal and others may be chronic issues that influence mental and physical health.

The farming community is no exception.

In fact, people in agriculture are at a high risk for mental health issues when compared to the general population. Justification for this is related to the levels of stress farmers carry with them day to day and year to year.

Many farmers cope with their stress alone, which can compound the symptoms of anxiety and depression to unmanageable levels. It is startling that the rates of suicide among agricultural workers are up fifty percent compared to what they were in the 1980s during the farm crisis.

Mental health issues, like SAD, anxiety, and depression, can be very difficult to recognize early on and may persist for years before diagnosis. Fewer than fifty percent of Americans with mental health concerns seek treatment for their symptoms.

The line between feeling stressed and being depressed can be illusive. Some signs of stress shifting from normal to abnormal include a combination of these symptoms: sleep, appetite, and mood changes; reclusiveness, nervousness, and difficulty concentrating; illogical decision making; increased sensitivity to sight, sound, smell, or touch.

If you are experiencing symptoms similar to those described here, it is advisable to talk about them with your doctor and close people you trust.

Mental health services for farmers are being brought to national attention and are included in the new Farm Bill. Senate Bill 2712 requires the United States Department of Agriculture to establish a grant program and a National Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network to help coordinate efforts to address the lack of mental health services in rural communities across the country. These grants can be dispersed to state agricultural departments, extension services, and non-profit organizations.

Looking into the future, Noble County OSU Extension will be working to coordinate stress assistance efforts locally for our farmers.

As your local Extension Educator for Agriculture and Natural Resources, I cannot provide personal advice on mental health concerns, but I will advocate for your access to resources that can and will provide you with the services you deserve.

Additional information about stress management is available from OSU Extension online at: