–Emma Alexander–

May is “Mental Health Awareness Month,” and the subject is getting ample focus, even in small-town America. Mental health professionals have identified “negative self-talk” and isolation as major problems. Remote work removes time with colleagues. Geographical job opportunities separate families, and too many commitments separate us from friends. These concerns uniquely impact farmers and ranchers, too. We spend hours in tractor and truck cabs, in the fields and on the roads, in what are often one-man jobs. During a typical day, we can be the only voice in our heads. We criticize ourselves harder than anyone else because being our own best cheerleader is an awkward job.

According to a study by the American Farm Bureau Federation, rural adults believe that financial issues (83%), the state of the farm economy (80%), fear of losing the farm (76%) and an uncertain future (76%) are some of the major factors impacting farm families. The challenges on the farm today are mentally heavy, but are they new?

How does the mental landscape on today’s farm compare to my grandparents’ lifetime? They were kids during the Depression. They were working adults during World War II, and navigated farm transition during the 1980’s farm crisis. My grandparents didn’t grow up with things such as cell phones (our inheritance included cigar boxes full of hand-written letters). I once asked my grandfather what it was like to have sugar and flour rationed during WWII. “What rations? We didn’t have anything anyway,” he replied. I was frustrated by his response because I thought he was just being ornery, but perhaps it was just the simple truth. Considering what they faced, it’s easy to question, are my struggles comparable to depression, war and financial ruin?

In reality, that’s a terrible, overwhelming question that’s comparing apples to oranges.  For all the advancements we’ve seen since their time, it overlooks the weight and speed of today’s global, fast paced life, business and information flow.  We’re experiencing other’s lives through the “rose colored glasses” of amazing technology and tools. If social platforms show us everyone’s extreme success and togetherness, our comparative thoughts will lean towards negativity and isolation. I recently listened to a business podcast that implored listeners not to listen to negativity so much, but to spend more time implementing ideas for success so there will be less cause for us to compare ourselves to others.

Our problems may seem new, but farmers and ranchers face the same types of cyclical challenges that have been on repeat for centuries. In our age, the cycles are now shorter and feel more overwhelming. Generational farm families see more of these cycles, and information is so accessible that it can actually be a burden. What if we know too much? While being informed is required to participate in our larger world where U.S. agriculture is a global force, maybe we would do well to refocus some of our attention.

Let’s do our best to change the kind of information we consume and be vigilant about checking in on each other. It’s imperative we serve each other, watching for ways others are at risk while making sure we aren’t mentally running ourselves into the ground. When those we care about are experiencing mental health challenges, they may not realize it until it’s too late. Let’s appreciate our amazing technologies and information, but remember to spend more time looking up and out.

This month, Missouri Farm Bureau will shine a spotlight on opportunities available to combat the mental health crisis in agriculture. MOFB is also working with Agri-Pulse to highlight virtual Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR) training sessions that provide the tools to recognize and respond to mental health crises. We’re always proud to showcase Farm Bureau’s “Farm State of Mind” resource directory at fb.org.

Take time this month to call a friend and spend time with family and friends. The adage is true: a healthy farm or ranch is nothing without a healthy you.