Low prices and uncertainty over trade are among the many pressures that can raise the risk of depression and even suicide on the farm, but assistance is available.
That assistance will be highlighted in a webinar hosted by the California Dairy Quality Assurance Program and Colorado State University on April 3.
The risk certainly exists, particularly among dairy farmers, whose cost of production is running $2 per hundredweight higher than the price they’re getting for their milk, Robert Fetsch, extension specialist at the CSU College of Health and Human Sciences, said.
“It’s putting quite a few dairy farmers at risk,” he said.
He’s getting lots of phone calls from dairy farmers in California and the Northeast, but the issue is likely more widespread, he said.
Fetsch will present the webinar, “Pain is Not Always Obvious,” which will include the ability to phone in questions anonymously.
The goal is to help dairy farm families know who to call and where to go to get help, he said.
“All too often farmers and ranchers don’t know where to turn,” he said.
The webinar will begin with recognizing the signs of stress, depression and suicidal thinking so family and friends can help the person who is struggling, he said.
There are quite a few signs, including a sad appearance, flat tone of voice, lack of energy, not wanting to get up to take care of animals, significant changes in weight or sleeping patterns and feelings of worthlessness or guilt, he said.
The webinar will also address what friends and family members can do and what they should and shouldn’t say to the person who is suffering.
One thing they shouldn’t say is “Come on, Joe, just snap out of it,” he said.
What they could say is “My gosh, it sounds like you’re really hurting, Joe. What’s going on?” he said.
Then they need to listen. If the person hurting will open up, they are asking for help, he said.
If they do, the family member or friend needs to see what he or she can do to get the person to an emergency room, doctor or another health professional, he said.
He will also talk about two farm bill programs to specifically help farmers and ranchers dealing with a mental health issue – AgrAbility and the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN).
There is clear, empirical evidence AgrAbility works. It has been successful in improving psychological well-being for those who have participated, he said.
FRSAN was effective in reducing suicide levels, but has lacked funding. The recently passed farm bill, however, provides funding to set up hotlines and crisis centers, he said.
Both programs can make a difference when things are really tough, he said.
“There are people all over who need this assistance. Many are quite reluctant to go to a mental health center,” he said.
Particularly at risk are white males over age 75. That segment has the highest rate of suicide in the country, he said.