By Clint Thompson
“It’s okay not to be okay.”
That’s the mantra shared by various organizations, including the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Development Disabilities (DBHDD), Georgia Department of Agriculture and University of Georgia Extension.
The three organizations united during a press conference on Wednesday at the Sunbelt Ag Expo to discuss mental health and encourage farmers to vocalize their feelings.
Kevin Tanner, commissioner of the DBHDD, discussed the significance of talking about a difficult subject within the agricultural community.
“We saw over a 60% increase in the last 20 years of rural suicides. It is a state of life and death,” Tanner said. “It’s important for us to find ways to reach farmers. We held a forum earlier (Wednesday) with a group of farmers, talking to them about their mental health, their stressors and also talking about, how do we communicate in the right way with farmers to let them know how to seek services? It is a life and death situation.”
A research survey conducted by the Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center and Georgia Foundation for Agriculture revealed 96% of 1,651 respondents experience moderate to high levels of stress. Almost half reported feeling sad or depressed with 39% feeling hopeless and 29% thinking of dying by suicide at least once per month. All are coping with external factors beyond their control.
“Farmers are in a unique situation. They are on the job 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They have unique stressors that are different than any other profession. I speak just from personal experience, having grown up and still owning a generational farm. They’re in a very unique situation,” Tanner said. “So much of what they do is completely out of their control. They can get up every day and do everything perfectly, but bad weather like a hurricane can come through and it can wipe out their livehood. They live under that pressure each and every day.
One of the greatest resources farmers have is their farming brethren. Matt Berry, a producer from Sumter County, Georgia, emphasized the importance of growers talking to each other.
“One of the biggest tools we’ve got is amongst ourselves. Reach out to your neighbor. Talk to your neighbor. You know how they are every day. You can tell when they’re out of sorts. One thing that is for sure and I can guarantee you because I live it every day, if you ain’t alright, he ain’t either or she ain’t either,” Berry said.
To address the concern of farmer mental health and well-being, several listening forums will be held across the state to foster understanding, compassion and support within Georgia’s farming and faith communities. The forums are designed to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health, raise awareness about the unique challenges faced by these communities and collaboratively build resources tailored to their specific needs, ensuring that no farmer ever feels alone in their struggles.
Source: Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Development Disabilities