Focus on Mental Health: A Farmer’s Perspective

This is the fifth in a five-part series on mental health in agriculture.

When we have a cold, we go see a doctor. When the cattle are sick, you call a veterinarian. But, when it comes to emotional well-being, we tend to keep those issues close to our chest. Today, farmers are facing enormous amounts of stress, from trade issues, low prices, and now, the impacts from COVID-19, including lost demand, negative cash flows, and for some, depopulation of animals.

It’s a topic that Minnesota farmer Bob Worth is eager to talk about because he’s been there. Taking over the family farm in the early 1980’s, he soon found himself navigating a stressful time in agriculture.

“Things were going along real good until about 86 when all of sudden the banks devaluated your land and your machinery. So, you went from having a really good net worth to having a negative net worth, because, in the farming in the 80’s, that’s what the bankers all went off, is your net worth.”

With alarm bells ringing in his mind, it impacted his well-belling, his farm and his family.

“It just does some things to your mind, and it throws you into, in my case, a severe case of depression. Depression caused from, am I failure at farming, am I failure for doing this, what did I do wrong to not see it quicker to get myself out of this? And I didn’t care if I got out of bed in the morning, I didn’t care if I did the work outside that I was supposed to do, just got really, really bad. And, if it wasn’t for my wife convincing me that I needed to go get some help, I don’t know what would of happened.”

Farmers are naturally inclusive folks, used to isolation working the fields, or caring for animals. While it’s a hard step to take, Worth says, it’s important to reach out and seek help when needed.

“It was something for me to even go and ask the doctor, a little bit about what is depression? So, he did put me on medication. The first medication didn’t work very good, and so he put me on a different set of medications and it was amazing how you just all of a sudden have to feel better about yourself, about your operations, and how your mind just started to work in a different direction. There’s nothing wrong with going to get some help and you’ll be amazed how much better you are going to feel about life, about yourself, about family.”

For him, it’s personal, and the message he wants to share is clear: if you are struggling, seek help.

“I’ve known three farmers, friends of mine, who have committed suicide, and I don’t want do this again. There’s no shame in asking for help. You don’t feel bad going to the doctor if you have a sinus infection. It should be the same way when you have an issue with depression or anxiety. There’s some good counselors out there that will help you get through this in the agricultural field. And what we need to do is keep telling everybody it is okay to ask for help. Even as the tough farmer that we are, it is fine, because you will feel so much better.”

Worth, from Lake Benton, Minnesota, serves on the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association board of directors and is a past board member of the American Soybean Association. ASA and the United Soybean board are partnering this month to bring awareness to farm stress thought the hashtag SoyHelp campaign (#SoyHelp) on social media. You can find resources online at soygrowers.com.

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Many thanks to Micheal Clements, Chad Smith, and the National Association of Farm Broadcasting for their help with this series.