What You Can Do About Rural Mental Health For Yourself and Others, By Pork Producer Wanda Patsche

I have been pondering this subject for quite some time. I remember not long ago where no one talked about mental health (and especially rural mental health). But, the great news is we are hearing and learning more about it. Thankfully there are more resources reaching mental health efforts.

Is Mental health an issue for rural America?

Based on an American Farm Bureau report, two out of three farmers have acknowledged the pandemic has affected their mental health and more than half are personally experiencing more mental health challenges than a year ago. I don’t doubt these statistics at all.

My personal story

I personally can share that I have experienced some of these mental challenges due to COVID-19. Last May/June, we were in the planning stage of selling our pigs when we heard the news that Hormel Foods (the packer we use) had curtailed their capacity to 50%. Hearing that news, I literally felt paralyzed in fear not knowing if we would be able to sell our pigs. If unable to sell them, what were our choices? We were “hearing” some farmers resorted to euthanization. I can assure you, this is not a topic that is freely discussed. Farmers raise livestock to feed people–not to be euthanized. Mentally, I couldn’t go there. I shed my share of tears trying to mentally figure what our future plans were going to be for this group of pigs. Fortunately, our government came through and helped us out. I want you to realize that last sentence is very hard for me to say because as a farmer, all we want to do at the end of the day is sell our products for a fair price. Generally, we don’t want government help, but this year has been the exception and for that I am truly thankful.

Knowing that mental health challenges are rising in rural America due to so many factors, I wanted to share with you what we can do starting today.

Why the increase in rural mental health challenges?

As farmers, we continually work in an atmosphere of change. Weather, markets, financial, animal care, crop health, mechanical, etc. While many farmers will tell you they love the lifestyle of farming, we are also a business. We have bills to pay and food to put on our table. Our challenges are many. Mother Nature likes to assert herself in the most abrupt ways. And while you think markets have some sort of logical discipline, you find out that what makes sense one day is the opposite the next. Working with animals and crops presents its own challenges as we work to keep them healthy. And just when you think things are going well, something always, always breaks down. And there are days, when all of these happen in a single day and we are exhausted trying to hold it together the best we can.

Covid challenges

Okay, now let’s add in a little COVID-19 to the mix. In all of my years on this earth (over 60) I have never experienced anything like this. That alone is like a bulldozer plowing through our lives. As humans, we were never meant to live our lives in isolation and afraid. Yes, I know we have technology to assist in staying connected, but it’s not the same. And for farmers, it’s especially challenging because we, on one hand, try to keep the ship upright and then in an instant, have a whole other list of parameters you need to heed.

Farmers are not ones who like to talk about mental health challenges. It’s not part of our vision of who we are. But you know what? The mental health challenges are here and we have to learn what we can do about them and not keep silent. Sharing information about mental health is helpful and hopefully will lessen the stigma that is attached and we can productively address the issues.

I am First Aid Certified in Mental Health

Because of the wave of new awareness in mental health and especially rural mental health, I chose to take an 8-hour course in First Aid Mental Health through our local Human Services. Check out the Mental Health First Aid for more information.

Why do we need First Aid in mental health? For many people, mental health is a taboo subject. No one wants to talk about it. It may appear to others that you are weak, but the fact is it’s here and you are not weak. Mental health problems are common, especially with depression, anxiety, misuse of drugs and alcohol. Nearly half of people experience a mental health challenge at least once in their lifetime and many do not seek help. Also, people are not well informed about how to recognize mental health problems. And help is available if we use the resources and tools available. There is no need to suffer and all the reasons to have hope.

What does First Aid Mental Health certified mean? First and foremost, I am able to assist people who may be experiencing a mental challenge. I CANNOT diagnose people with mental disorders. But I can be kind, listen, reassure, assess and encourage people and/or to seek self-help or outside professional help if needed. So let’s get started and talk about what you can do to help rural mental health.

8 Things You Can Do to help

Learn and be aware of the warning signs.

1) Is there someone who is not acting like they normally do? Is there someone who has become withdrawn or they physical appearance is different than before? Has there been a change in normal activity. Do they have a lack of interest in activities they have enjoyed prior? Are they having more farm accidents? Has the appearance of their farm place changed?

2) Talk to your neighbors and friends. Stay in touch. Ask if they need anything and if something seems awry, ask if they are okay.

3) If someone is going through a mental challenge, be there for them. Sometimes just your presence may be enough. Stay in touch with them. Show empathy. Show them that you care. And listen.

4) If they have animals, does it appear their animals are not cared for? Just be aware of the “red flags” and done’t just ignore them. Talk to them about it. Ask if they need any help to care for their animals

6) If they are experiencing a mental challenge, don’t be afraid to ask them if they are thinking of suicide. If they are, tell them there is hope and the vast majority of people do overcome their mental challenges. Don’t leave them alone and express empathy. Keep them safe by seeking help by accessing the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. See below for resources.

7) Acknowledge what they are going through. There is no lack of struggles on the farm. Really hear what they are saying and acknowledge, “I know it’s tough, is there anyway I can help you?”

8) Become informed about mental health. Take a First Aid Course for Mental Health, read about it in books like “Mental Health First Aid USA.”

What can you do to help yourself

When I was experience my mental health challenge earlier this year, there were a few things in incorporated into my life. I tried to stay positive but there were days that just plain sucked. Here is my list of 10 suggestions:

1) Limit your time on Social Media. Even though I like to stay informed, there is just so much negativity. People say things they would not normally say to someone in person.

2) Limit your time to news talk shows. Same thing. Too much negativity and bias.

3) I love making lists. I feel accomplished when I can check off items!

4) Make time for your family. I know all the COVID rules. But sometimes we need that human-to-human connections in real life.

5) Exercise. This one is always challenging for me but I know I feel better when I exercise. And if you can spend some time outdoors, all the better. I love it because if I am out in nature, I don’t have to wear a mask and it’s a taste of normalcy.

6) Eating. Eating healthy helps with your mental health.

7) Talk. It might seem simple, but talk about your feelings and stress. It does help!

8) Set goals and work towards them. I am in the process of decluttering my house. It feels so good!

9) Do something for someone else. It’s that easy.

10) Take time for you. Learn something new. Take a drive Find a new hobby. I have been learning to make homemade cards and giving them away. It makes me feel good. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it!

I wold love to know what you do to destress and improve your mental health. Please share!

NOTE: I am not a health care professional and I know there are more serious mental health problems. I am not in a position to talk about them due to my lack of knowledge. Please seek out someone in the mental health profession to discuss some of the more serious problems. Again, there is hope and many, many people recover from mental health illnesses!

Additional Resources

Farm Bureau – Impact of COVID-19 Farm State of Mind

National Suicide Prevention Help Line

Crisis Text Line

Mental Health Farm Business Management Minnesota

Rural Resilience Training

Farm Financial Counseling

TransFARMation – A Podcast creating awareness and ackowledging farm stress

Minnesota Farm Advocates

Managing and Breaking the Cycle of Chronic Farm Stress

Ranch and Farm Stress