In a room of farmers, Adrienne DeSutter asked a tough question: Do you know a farm family who lost someone to suicide?

One after another, hands went up.

DeSutter: Mental health should be a priority

Adrienne DeSutter

“Almost every hand goes up, almost up every time,” DeSutter said. “And that’s really crappy. And it’s something we need to address. … We need to make sure we are prioritizing our mental health and keeping farm families protected and safe. This is not just a statistic. This is our friends and our families, and our neighbors and our community that are being impacted.”

DeSutter, a mental health consultant and agricultural wellness columnist, joined Krista Swanson, a research specialist in agriculture policy and economics at the University of Illinois, in presenting a workshop at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Annual Convention in Texas.

Farming has some of the highest rates of stress, substance use, depression, stress-related fatalities and work-related fatalities, DeSutter said. Family dynamics, long work hours, isolation and uncontrollable conditions also contribute.

And 2019 didn’t help stress levels.

“In 2019, we had a lot of unusual factors that all culminated at the same time as far as the economy is concerned,” Swanson said. “We had global trade conflicts, commodity price volatility, widespread weather woes and record prevent plant acres,” among others.

So, how do we recognize signs of crisis among friends? It’s not always easy.

DeSutter asked participants to raise their hands if they thought the following symptoms were related to stress or depression:

  • aggression/irritability,
  • fatigue,
  • sadness or crying,
  • withdrawing from actions, and
  • worry.

Turns out, all of them are symptoms of either.

“It’s difficult to recognize signs of crisis because we all are suffering from stress at some point. It’s tough to know when we’re looking at stress versus crisis,” DeSutter said.

She pointed to information from the National Institute of Mental Health that says people showing multiple symptoms at the same time are more of a red flag. Also, symptoms lasting two weeks or longer could also be a cause for concern.

“The difference here is it changes your ability to function,” she said. “I may be sad sometimes. We all are sad sometimes. You may be exhausted sometimes. But when it becomes an impact in your ability to function on a daily basis, that’s when we know it could be something more.”

She said changes in a person’s typical behavior can also indicate something may be wrong.

Illinois Farm Bureau provides mental health and wellness resources. Click here to learn more.