A survey of rural adults in December found the mental health of most farmers and farmworkers has been impacted by the pandemic. More than half said they are experiencing more mental health challenges than a year ago.
The survey was commissioned by American Farm Bureau Federation to gauge the effects of the pandemic on mental health and to see what has changed since its first rural mental health survey in April 2019.
Three in five rural adults said the pandemic has impacted their mental health, and that response was even higher among farmers and farmworkers, said Ray Atkinson, Farm Bureau director of communications.
Two in three farmers and farmworkers said the pandemic has impacted their mental health, and that response was really high in younger people, he said.
Among 18 to 34 year olds, 71% said the pandemic has affected their mental health, and 36% said the pandemic has affected their mental health “a lot.”
In addition, two-thirds of that group said they were experiencing more mental health challenges than a year ago, he said.
“That’s certainly concerning,” he said.
Among all rural adults, 56% said they were experiencing more challenges than a year ago, a 6% increase from the 2019 survey — which also noted a large increase in challenges over the previous year,
The survey also asked about symptoms, including feeling nervous, anxious or on edge. Farmers and farmworkers were 10 percentage points more likely to feel nervous, anxious or on edge than rural adults as a group (65% versus 55%).
“One of the things that really stuck out to me was that farmers and farmworkers were more likely to experience that,” he said.
Respondents also weighed in on what circumstances could be contributing to mental health challenges. One of the biggest changes was the impact of social isolation. The number of farmers and farmworkers who said it had an impact increased more than 22% from the earlier survey. Those who thought it had “a lot” of impact went from 18% in the earlier survey to 41% in the latest survey.
“We know that’s a contributor to mental health, and farmers spend a lot of time working alone,” he said.
“The conclusion is obviously there’s still a lot of work to be done,” he said.
Farm Bureau and its partners have been working on the issue for a long time, he said.
“We really want to point people to resources,” he said.
The survey also showed progress in people’s awareness of mental health, with 95% of rural adults saying mental health is important to them and 75% saying it is “very important” — an increase of 6%.
“That tells you in all the challenges we have, there’s opportunity there. People realize and they’re open to talking about mental health and recognizing the problem,” he said.
And 87% of farmers and farmworkers say it’s important to reduce the stigma about mental health, he said.
“That’s what most of our efforts are about … it’s OK not to be OK and you don’t have to go it alone,” he said.
To read the survey, visit www.fb.org.