In a recent meeting with my mental health research colleagues, I brought up the topic of the epidemic of the unresolved depression that farmers and members of the agriculture community experience. My colleagues’ responses were, “I had no idea.”
Significance of Depression
“Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.” ~ Sigmund Freud
If you Google farmers and depression (or suicide) you will soon realize this epidemic is actually a pandemic of global proportions. However, when looking for statistical resources on the emotional health issues on the farm, much of the research is being done outside of the US. Although this research may be generalized, it is not currently addressing the emotional health problems we have here, in our own agricultural community.
In our WNY rural culture, it is normalized to avoid negative feelings and “push on” because it is what the job demands. For some, talking about “feelings” feels vulnerable, which is often considered a sign of weakness. And, when you do try to talk about your emotional pain and sadness, you may get responses such as, “everything will be okay,” “suck it up,” and “prices are bound to get better.” Although these sentiments are well meaning, it can feel very isolating and make things psychologically worse for the sufferer.
Here is the Problem..
When you do not open up about your emotions or your depression and anxiety, these emotions will continue to plague you. Your unattended negative emotions will always surface inappropriately in ways you may not realize including lashing out at loved ones, avoiding close relationships, deprecating self-talk (for example, calling yourself worthless), and severe depression to the point of attempting or completing suicide.
What is the Solution?
If you or someone you know is experiencing emotional health problems relating to stress on the farm or ag business, your first step is to begin by being vulnerable (only to safe people; if you are a Brene Brown fan you know what I am talking about). Vulnerability is having the strength (not weakness) to talk about your sadness, pain, anger, and despair. My colleague Jodi Lathem and I have been working closely together to develop an affordable local resource to specifically address the needs for improving emotional health on the farm. Beginning October 29, 2109, Jodi and I are introducing a small group counseling programs offering a safe space to talk specifically designed for farmers and ag business owners, managers, and laborers. Also, included in the programs, is a women’s specific group for women suffering or supporting someone who is experiencing severe emotional distress.
It is our goal, not only to recognize the problem, but to offer a solution that may not have been previously available to the hardworking farmers in our community.
Catherine Cleveland is a former farmer, a mental health counselor, and the founder and director of Cleveland Emotional Health in Geneseo, NY. She is currently researching the interaction of physiological responses and emotions as a doctoral student at the University of Rochester. For more information, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jodi Letham is an agriculture colleague and organizer of Women in Agriculture and Group Counseling for Farm Owners and Managers