AIRWAY HEIGHTS, Wash. — Lesley Kelly, farmer and co-founder of the Canadian nonprofit Do More Agriculture Foundation, says she has been criticized for her efforts to address stress and other mental health issues in agriculture.
They said, “If you can’t handle the stress of farming, get out, you can’t call yourself a farmer.”
But talking about it breaks the stigma and can help farmers and their families cope, she said.
She recalled one farmer’s comments after a presentation. She remembered expecting he would yell at her, saying, “This isn’t the time and place to talk about this.”
But she was wrong.
“He put up his hands and he said, ‘I don’t have enough fingers on my two hands to count the amount of people I lost to suicide. It’s about damn time we start talking about this,’” Kelly said.
Survey results show the size of the challenge facing farmers.
Kelly shared results of a University of Guelph survey, including findings that 35% of responding farmers met the definition for depression, 45% for high stress and 58% for anxiety.
Stressors can include weather, prices, animal and crop care, physical work and exhaustion, isolation, family dynamics, employees or labor issues, negative public perceptions and succession planning.
Kelly spoke during an Agricultural Marketing and Management Organization (AMMO) workshop hosted Feb. 18 by the Washington Association of Wheat Growers.
The workshop, “Breaking Barriers in Agriculture,” was designed to help break down mental health stigmas in agriculture.
John Roll, professor and vice dean of research at Washington State University’s College of Medicine, said the 20% of the population that resides in rural areas doesn’t have the same access to treatment and services that urban residents do. WSU is working to rectify that, he said. He pointed to WSU Extension as a resource.
For financial stresses, farmers should be proactive and talk to their lender, said Scott Winkler, a relationship manager at Northwest Farm Credit Services.
“At least you can get the ball rolling and then you can start talking about options instead of worrying about them,” he said. “The sooner you talk to a lender, the more options you’re going to have.”
Kelly shared her family’s experiences with mental health and sharing their stories on social media.
“When we see a burning barn or a combine, we drop everything and we run to our neighbors,” Kelly said. “My hope is, when it comes to mental health challenges and illness, that it’s the same: We run and help them, we run and support them.”
Kelly recommended several tips to reach out to someone in crisis, including:
• Say what you see and ask how they are doing, even if it’s awkward or difficult.
• Show that you care through kindness and compassion.
• Strike a balance between listening, asking questions and sharing experiences.
• You don’t need to have or know the answers or even give advice.