Farm Talk

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May 30, 2013

Shedding a light on mental health awareness month

Parsons, Kansas — Farming is one of the most dangerous jobs in America, while that may not be a shocking statistic, the jaw-dropper is that the danger prevails from the mental aspect of farming, not the physical.

“The rate of mental illness in farmers is considered to be one of the reasons why farming is listed as one of the top ten most dangerous occupations,” explained Kelly Bradford, community support services coordinator for Four County Mental Health Center.

According to Bradford, in America, more people die on the farm from suicide then from farm-related injuries.

“This is something that is very alarming to me,” she said. “I mean, I grew up on a farm, married a farmer, have kids who love being on the farm and so it became important to me to learn more about this topic.”

Unfortunately, she explained, it is proven to be one of the most under researched and under served populations. In light of May being Mental Health Awareness Month, Four County has been working to educate the public on recognizing signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety as well as address the elephant in the room — farmer suicide.

Bradford explains that when comparing the national average for suicide completion rates, non-farm males make approximately five suicide attempts, while farm males only make three. In women, those not on the farm make 25 attempts, while farm women on average only make three.

Why is this happening?

“It’s a career that is so dependent on the weather and things that are beyond anyone’s control,” she said.

“Another thing you see is that a lot of people in agriculture professions are getting older. A lot of the work on the farm is very physical, back-breaking work. Add that with the lack of health care in rural areas, and it’s difficult for the aging farmer,” Bradford added.

Other realities that can be contributed in the decline in mental health of a farmer is lack of escape.

“For most, farming isn’t just an occupation, it’s a way of life,” she stated.

Farming isn’t 9 to 5, sick days and vacation aren’t automatically included,  making time to get away or corresponding with family members schedules a strenuous task.

“I often hear my dad say of others: “When he can’t farm anymore, he’ll die.” It’s a statement that is true on many levels,” she said.

Reasons like these are why Bradford stresses the importance of finding hobbies and interests outside of farming.

“Just like anyone with a desk job has hobbies outside of work, it is important for farmers to do the same to give themselves an escape from their job,” she added.

The solitariness of this profession, lack of health insurance coverage and the stigma surrounding mental health treatment is the reason many signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety go untreated.

How can this be prevented?

“People show many signs of suicide before acting. It’s important to know these signs and get them help,” Bradford explained.

Signs such as, talk of hurting their self, expressions of feeling hopeless, saying things such as “everybody would be better off without me,” sudden need to tie up loose ends and contacting friends and relatives to say goodbye.

Having conversations with your loved ones about mental health can make a difference before things get to this point, Bradford advises.

“I get a lot of eye rolls when I bring up mental health at the dinner table, but by talking about it,  often times this encourages someone to get help for themselves,” she added.

In conclusion, Bradford said, “If you’re feeling down don’t brush it off, talk to someone, because you shouldn’t miss out on enjoying the quality of life you deserve.”

Four County Mental Health Center, Inc. is a private not-for-profit licensed Kansas community mental health center providing comprehensive services for the ever changing needs of all populations residing within the southeast Kansas counties of Chatauqua, Elk, Montgomery and Wilson or  call the National Suicide Prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255 just to talk to a staff of professionals. £

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