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Mental Health Services Designed for Agriculture Workers 

Written by: Charlie Chapman

Often a lonely and isolating profession, farmers experience increased rates of anxiety and depression. Studies find farmers have a higher than average suicide rate when compared to the general population. One solution serving farmers struggling with mental health concerns helps them talk to people they do feel comfortable opening up to: other farmers. 



The Problem  

Owning and operating a farm may be depicted as pastoral and idyllic, but many farmers are struggling with mental health concerns on top of their normal day-to-day workload. Often a lonely and isolating profession, farmers experience increased rates of anxiety and depression. Studies find farmers have a higher than average suicide rate when compared to the general population. One study found the primary causes of mental anguish lie in the financial issues farmers face and the existential threat of losing the farm.  

 Since March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic compounded these issues with further isolation related to social distancing, risk of illness, and supply chain and shipping issues. Arguably one of the oldest and most essential professions, farming and agriculture are vital parts of the economy. Many farmers find it difficult to talk to others, even family members and healthcare professionals, about the mental struggles they face, making it difficult for them to find the help they need. Learn more on this episode of ncIMPACT.  

 

The Solution 

One solution serving farmers struggling with mental health concerns helps them talk to people they do feel comfortable opening up to: other farmers. The Farmer to Farmer program, coordinated by the North Carolina Agromedicine Institute, partners farmers and farm family members with farmer mentors. These mentors receive special training in peer support and mental health first aid. Farmers can reach out to the program and be matched with a mentor if they need additional support or to volunteer as a mentor.  

 The program has been successful in part because of the farmer to mentor farmer relationship fostered. Farmers are more comfortable expressing their concerns with peers who have similar experiences and understand the day-to-day of farm life. Mentors are trained to refer farmers to mental health professionals if concerns are too complex for them to address. Providing farmers with the opportunity to connect and build community with one another strengthens the profession and makes it more appealing for future generations.  

 

The Players 

Many statewide agencies and non-profit organizations collaborated in the midst of the pandemic to support farmers in times of heightened stress. The North Carolina Agromedicine Institute is an inter-institutional organization which partners with East Carolina University, North Carolina State University, and North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University to provide farmers across the state with resources to promote their health and safety. Recently, in addition to the Farmer to Farmer mentorship program, the Institute began offering resources and programs to help farmers recognize major stressors in their lives and give them tools to address them before they become a crisis. The “tape & twine” program offers farmers practical solutions to deal with the effects of an off-harvest year when crops and finances are challenging.  

The North Carolina State Extension, a partnership organization between NC State and NC A&T, also provides resources for famers and their families struggling with mental health crises. On their website the NC State Extension provides a list of resources, by county, that farmers can utilize when they are in a crisis or otherwise need additional support. One program, Daymark Recovery Services, provides at-home counseling for farm families. Tackling crises at home is often a more effective and powerful means of resolution.  

 

The Promise 

Many mental health solutions focus on farmers, but farmworkers also need mental health support as they are subject to similar stressors. Farmworkers, often Latino migrants, can be separated from their families for months at a time during harvest seasons. Experiencing isolation and loneliness, farmworkers also find it difficult to reach out for support, in addition to the challenge of finding support resources in their native language. El Futuro is a non-profit organization based in Durham looking to eliminate some of these barriers.  

 By partnering with the Episcopal Farm Worker Ministry, El Futuro works to connect Spanish-speaking farmworkers with telepsychiatry and teletherapy professionals and resources. Working in traditionally under-served and rural counties, the non-profit connects farmworkers with mental health resources to which they would otherwise not have access. Conducting visits and consultations virtually eliminates issues of transportation to Durham and reduces risk of illness during the COVID-19 pandemic. Eliminating barriers to access and providing services in Spanish increases the likelihood that Latino farmworkers will seek out mental health supports when they need it.  

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