Fluctuation in commodity prices, weather challenges, and other factors make farmers accustomed to a certain amount of stress. But last year’s pandemic added so much more, according to a behavioral health specialist at Kansas State University.
“Farming is difficult under the best of circumstances, and adding a layer of stress like the pandemic makes it harder to get the job done and recover from a mental health perspective,” said Bradley Dirks, a researcher at K-State and Behavioral Extension Health Specialist.
“There are so many things that affect our mental health in rural areas. It’s almost like a perfect storm, ”said Dirks, who noted that everyone has a different response to stress.
Dirks noted that in rural communities and particularly on farms, people often work in solitary situations. These stretches of time that pass alone are usually balanced with the church, school, community, or other social gatherings. The pandemic made it difficult, if not impossible, to have this social balance, which further isolated many people.
This isolation and meager mental health resources can increase the problem for those seeking help. Even telehealth sessions with an advisor are difficult or non-existent for those who do not have good broadband internet.
Dirks said some indications of stress include lack of sleep, which causes fatigue that increases daily problems. Too many days like this lead to a lack of concentration, irritability, anxiety, and changes in appetite that can lead to additional isolation. Some people resort to alcohol or other substances as a means of coping, which can further affect our relationships.
“One of the things that makes us successful is our ability to power. One of the things that affects our ability to be healthy is our unwillingness to say we need help, ”he said.
Part of the solution is to educate people, Dirks said. More than 50% of us will feel depressed or anxious at some point in our lives, so we are not alone or alone in our struggles.
To help connect rural Kansans with resources, the K-State Transdisciplinary Stress and Stress and Resistance Team met.
“We are in a good position with our extension agents and our extension system in general, to be able to identify the problem and be part of the solution,” Dirks said. The team works in rural and urban areas.
Any statewide group (banking group, church group, or farm-related organization) can contact team members Rebecca McFarland at email@example.com or Rachael Clews at firstname.lastname@example.org to request a one- to two-hour program on the topic of mental health.
Dirks said numerous people on the team have been trained in QPR (Question, Persuade and Answer). This program is focused on potentially suicidal people (those who see no way out). Some team members are also trained in what he called mental health first aid, not as therapists, but to recognize what to do when they know someone is struggling.
Dirks encourages anyone who has mental health issues or knows someone who might be, to seek help.
Alicia Boor is the Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent for K-State Research and Extension – Cottonwood District. Contact her by email at email@example.com or call 620-793-1910.