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Mental Health
Episode 71st May 2022 • AgriSafe Talking Total Farmer Health • AgriSafe
00:00:00 00:19:33

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Script Arranged by Laura Siegel

Hosted by Carey Portell

Edited by Joel Sharpton

Special Guests: Dr. Adam Kantrovich, Bryan Moes, and Galen Lee

Transcripts

Carey:

Welcome to the Talking Total Farmer Health podcast from AgriSafe Network. At AgriSafe, we work to protect the people that feed the world by supporting the health and safety professionals, ensuring access to preventative services for farm families and the agriculture community.

Carey:

I’m your host, Carey Portell, and the topic for this episode is near and dear to us here at AgriSafe Network. Today, we are going to talk about mental health for ag. workers, with a focus on stress and wellness. Now, when you’re listening to this episode, you might notice a lot of chatter in the background – that’s because we are rewinding back to January, when we were at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual convention in Atlanta, Georgia, where we talked to three people on the topic of mental health. First, we spoke with Dr. Adam Kantrovich, who is a faculty member at Clemson University in South Carolina. He is also the assistant director of Clemson Cooperative Agribusiness Team, and the director of the Income Tax school. Here is what he had to say about the current mental health landscape for those in the ag. Industry.

Adam:

As many folks understand that there are significant health care discrepancies in major rural areas, which makes access to healthcare difficult in many parts of the country, and especially as it relates to mental health. And over the past 10 or 15 years, we've seen some significant shifts within our ag industry and with our farms that have increased the stress level. Those of us that are male. Those of us that are in agriculture have a tendency not to take care of ourselves from a normal health standpoint, let alone from a mental well-being standpoint. And we have seen a in many parts of the country in our rural communities, an increase in suicides as well as drug and alcohol abuse and other issues stemming from the increased stress levels within our farming industry.

Adam:

We cannot control weather, but we can counteract certain weather-related situations, I can put drain tile in to deal with flooding situations or standing water in my field. If I have the appropriate soils and et cetera, I can put in irrigation to deal with drought. But the reality is if I keep getting punched over and over and over again from all sorts of different situations. Whether it be drought situations, weather events, freezes, snows, you know, that's the type of things I can normally deal with and handle through other mechanisms, potentially. However, if a trade war ensues and changes how I'm able to market, if I'm able to market my products because it now might be closed off to many other countries that used to be my trading partners. Even though it's not direct to me as a farmer to my farm, it still affects the price I receive for my product. And so that adds additional stress on top of everything. Or issues with heirs property, property that has been passed down informally generation to generation, which means I might be using the land, I might be paying property taxes on it, but I actually don't have the ownership of it. And so those types of stressors that might come about has led to, you know, a number of situations where we have seen increase suicides. I stated earlier increased suicides and drug and alcohol abuse and spousal situations and higher incidences of divorces that we that were used to not be as typical as they are now in in rural America.

Adam:

You know, a lot of times, because of the lack of population density within our rural communities and the roles that our farmers and ranchers play. We are typically living in a very solitary life. We are with our families and the farmer, male or female does not want to show weakness that I'm having these feelings right brought on by the following stress amongst my spouse or kids, and we want to hide it, especially from the children. So I don't want to go there, let alone talking with a non farming sibling. And so it's usually done in other ways and sometimes under the radar. While I'm meeting with everybody at six a.m. wherever that spot is over coffee and and breakfast. But. There it is never a direct or typically never a direct call out for help.

Carey:

There’s a lot of good information Dr. Kantrovich brought up – some sociocultural stressors, situational stressors, and barriers to accessing care that are specific to those working in agriculture. Because of the breadth and variety of stressors, it’s so important to have outlets to cope. And now that we’ve gotten a rundown of the mental health situation, we can start looking at some solutions for stress. Next, we spoke with Brian Mooes, who was raised on a farm in South Dakota, where he now lives with his wife and their five sons. Both Brian and his wife are the current state chairs for the South Dakota Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers and Ranchers program, and Brian also works at his family-owned feedlot. Here is some advice Brian had to share, for how to combat stress in the ag. community.

Brian:

We are better together, and that's why this networking is so important. We need to know that in the farming community, there's going to be those farmers that are doing OK, but in their time of need, we need to notice, you know, they're off. Whether they're on a hill, they're stuck somewhere, they're hurt. We need to go out and find them. Look for those key components, you know, or maybe they aren't mowing their yard or not as tidy. They're starting to get a mess around the shop. We need to pick up on those, and they're sometimes hard to notice because we're busy too, and don't take the time to slow down and watch.

Brian:

Reach out to them and give them that hand when they need it and making sure that they know that that hand is there for them to grab when they need that hand. Because that's the hardest part right now is everybody's so busy and stressed with money and we've been, you know, kind of shut down and locked up in our own little areas. Nobody's been traveling, so we haven't made those connections, the networking that we've been able to in the past. So really reaching out and now more than ever to make sure you are still connecting with these people. One of the big things that I don't take enough time to do, but just sending a quick text message saying, you know, it doesn't have to be a big thing, but just I like to try and send some motivational ones. I've had some people push me, and this year I'm going to try and be more diligent about reaching out to one, two, three people every morning and say, Hey, I was thinking of you today. I hope you have a phenomenal day. Be the rock star that you are, and let's go out and and make this day better. And that really can make a big difference in someone's life. Just that one message, even if they don't respond back, like you said, like I said earlier, you never know what little message is going to help reach that person in their time of need. And, you know, every once in a while, you'll get a message back, Hey, thanks.

Brian:

And we have so many ways to connect, whether it's, you know, social media on the back channel and sometimes the private messages mean more than just the, well, congratulations on your baby that you just had sent them a back channel and saying, Hey, congratulations, I know it's it's a struggle and tough right now, but if you need anyone to chat to, I'm here, you know, and here's my number. I look forward to talking to you soon.

Carey:

I love it. Brian truly offered up some great options. And he’s right, a little bit of kindness can truly go a long way…Alright, we’re going to take a quick break, and when we get back, you will hear some more advice from Brian!

Carey:

Are you a healthcare professional that lives in a rural area, or serves farmers and ranchers? If the answer is yes, then you should check out AgriSafe Network’s FarmResponse professional development training. FarmResponse is a three-point-five hour continuing education webinar developed by experts from across the nation with the AgriStress Response Network. We know that farmers and ranchers have different needs than other rural residents – so we developed this program to help train healthcare professionals how to best serve them, and their families. After taking this course, you will have a holistic cultural competency for this community, and you can provide total care for farmers and ranchers. Join AgriSafe’s growing community of FarmResponse certified health, safety and agricultural professionals that are connecting and caring for the people who feed the world. If you’d like more information on FarmResponse, check out our website at agrisafe dot org, spelled A G R I S A F E dot O R G.

Brian:

The biggest thing I've had luck with is there's a lot of social media out there and as farmers were, either don't have good internet service or trying to slide and read through posts. Well, we can't look at our phone and read stuff while we're trying to feed and try and find some kind of a network. I found a network that's worked really well, that it's all audio only so we can get on there. It's not like a Zoom call or conference call. You have to schedule it. Just the rush of the moment. People, if they see you're on, they can come on, chat with you. Everybody hops in and out. They're taking care of their business first, but having some kind of a medium that you can connect, whether it's a phone call or some kind of social media app has really been beneficial to me because the more you can network and broaden your horizon, the more you'll have a solution set in your back pocket. The app I've really been excited and passionate about here lately, it's called Clubhouse and it's an audio only app, and I think Facebook and Twitter have their own audio only rooms, but we've really formed a core group of agricultural people from across the United States-We've got a strong agricultural discussion room on Clubhouse that we really can lean on a bunch of different people to be able to answer questions clearly and concisely.

Carey:

It truly is amazing how many different ways we can now stay connected, thanks to technology – whether it’s for troubleshooting a problem on our farms, or just for chatting with our friends. But community networks aren’t the only important connections we need to foster. Brian also mentioned the importance of family connections, for stress relief. Here’s what he said:

Brian:

something that's been real important to us is making sure we are taking the time with family because you never know how much time you have on. And with that, just being there when you can and being purposeful with your time is what can make the biggest difference being present. And that's what I struggle with. You see all these tasks we have to have done out on this farm, and sometimes it seems so overwhelming, but just said, OK, well, are all the cattle and a good enough spot where they're fed and bedded for today? And sometimes you just need to. Not that you ever will forget about it, but say, Well, I need to forget about the farm and I need to concentrate on family. I need to concentrate on making sure I am being diligent about the time I'm spending. So it is that connection, whether it is just sitting down, playing farm in the house, on the carpet with the boys or just hanging out, holding them, sitting back, you know, popping some popcorn and watching a movie and relaxing because we've been gone for about four days now and we got a couple of boys that are missing mom and dad because we stay home with them all the time, because it's the farm life and it's we usually try and take them with us when we go to stuff. But it's hard when you're halfway across the country to a big event. But with technology now we're still able to stay connected, luckily, and that's something that we didn't have when I had my first boy. You know, it was a phone call and now you got the Zoom and the video FaceTiming that gives you a lot of options and making sure we're leveraging those to connect a network as something that's been real beneficial

Carey:

What Brian said really goes to show, sometimes you don’t actually need to discuss your stress or mental health with your friends and family. Sometimes just spending quality time with them is, in itself, stress relief. Now, last but not least, we spoke to Galen Lee, a farmer from southwestern Idaho. Galen has a diversified farm that operates a small dairy and a small feedlot, where they also grows crops - specifically hay, grain, and corn to feed the animals, and then sugar beets, peppermint, and asparagus to supply income. Galen has spent a lot of time in ag. organizations such as the American Sugar Beet Growers Association, where he was president for two years, and Farm Bureau. Here is some advice from Galen on how to cope with stress and improve wellness.

Galen:

A lot of times when I get done for the day, I'll go home. And when you farm, you're never done. Your your mind's always working, you're always thinking of something or you see something. But I try to take just a half hour when I get home and just relax and just do nothing farm related just for 30 minutes. And sometimes that helps me a whole bunch and I can and go back and, you know, do some books or do some research or do some paperwork or whatever. And I'm kind of refreshed because I've had that half hour break and go do something different. Sometimes my wife and I, I'll just go for a walk or just go for a drive and not talk about the farm or anything and just just take a quick break. And that works. Now that's at the end of the day when there's nobody relying on me and the phone's not ringing constantly. And so I pick that time and that works for me really well to do that. So that's a daily thing that I do.

Carey:

That’s so true – taking even just 5 minutes away from work can be really refreshing. Which lead us to the topic of longer breaks… Here’s what Galen has to say about vactions.

Galen:

If if people like to take vacations, it's a very important thing to do. But if you're someone that's really stressed on a vacation, it's not going to help you. And so I think it's up to individual people. My vacations, a lot of times are mostly just these trade shows and things I go to and events and conferences. We will usually my wife and I. I'll take one vacation a year, just go someplace and do something unrelated for just whatever. And it's like no agenda, no schedule. Just wake up, go figure out something to do and go and not plan every minute of every day. And do you know a few things a day and then just relax and sit down. And actually, one time I read part of a book. I didn't finish the book, but I actually read part of a book on our vacation. And you know, it was something different, but it was relaxing and rejuvenating. And then when I got back, you know, when that was done, I'm fired up and ready to go again. So it helps. And whether it's a vacation or a staycation, if you just are able to stay home and do nothing or just go to a friend's house or a neighbor or something or an acquaintance, you know, several miles away and just spend some time with them, that's important to even going to dinner with some friends can be helpful and talk about other topics rather than the farm. And it's just putting your mind in a different spot for a little while and then coming back to it and you're refreshed and you're ready to go again.

Carey:

Personally I like a low key vacation so I can just relax. But if your vacation is more stressful than restful, you should find something else that works better for you. Now, we are going to circle back a bit to something we heard a bit earlier, regarding community networks… Here is Galen’s advice for how to talk with neighbors about stress and mental health.

Galen:

We talk about it all the time. I've got a few neighbors, you know, he'll just send me a text, he says, Holy crap, what a lousy day this has been. And I'll call him, Hey, what's going on? You know, is there anything I can do to help or are you just overwhelmed? There's just other things of what's going on and just talk, you know, somebody else is interested and somebody cares. It's too easy to get to feel like you're alone out there and go down a hole and then things just compile and get worse and worse and worse if you're not careful. But if you're someone you can reach out to, that's always helpful and someone that's willing to, you know, talk back and and give you some interaction. Sometimes, you know, one time a guy called and he was having all kinds of trouble. I went over with a tractor and helped him for an hour, and it just boom that helped him. It was great and I've done the same thing. I've been behind and and things happening, and he was coming by and he says, Hey, looks like you're swamped. He says, Can I go help with this really quick? I said, sure. So he jumped on a tractor mine and went and did something and kind of got me caught up and refreshed and rejuvenated. So it's it's not so much about the tillage work or the tractor work that got done, but just knowing somebody there in your corner to help you out, it's a mental thing and It makes you feel better.

Carey:

I said it earlier, and I will say it again. Having those close ties in your community, having that support network, can really make a large difference in your health and wellness. Don’t hesitate to reach out. Now, before we wrap up, I just wanted to share one last note from Dr. Kantrovich, about community resources.

Adam:

Many states have individuals, whether it be through the land, grant universities, extension programs, local rural health centers that are out there that you can reach out to to find somebody to help and that might be able to get them to the next steps necessary. American Farm Bureau has a fantastic site where you can do nationwide or search state by state and take a look at the resources that might be available. It just varies on where you're at and, you know, reach out, find those, find where those things are, hopefully before you need it. There is a lot of help that is available. You just have to be willing to access it.

Carey:

And I think that’s the perfect place to end. Help is out there, you just need to look, or ask. Well thank you so much again, to Dr. Kantrovich, Galen, and Brian, for joining us! And thanks to our listeners for joining us for another episode of Talking Total Farmer Health. Be sure to subscribe to this podcast to hear more from AgriSafe on the health and safety issues impacting agricultural workers. To see more from AgriSafe, including webinars and our newsletter, visit w w w dot agrisafe dot org. This episode was created by AgriSafe Network. Script arranged by Laura Siegel, hosted by Carey Portell, edited by Joel Sharpton, original interview conducted by Linda Emanuel, with special guests Adam Kantrovich, Brian Mooes, and Galen Lee.