Farmers who are in the process of depopulating livestock herds or flocks due to the COVID-19 pandemic should develop a checklist with their veterinarian first.
And, one item on the list that shouldn’t go overlooked involves caring for the mental health of those involved in the depopulation process.
“This is a hard job that’s mentally and physically fatiguing,” Brad Leuwerke, veterinarian at the Swine Vet Center in Minnesota, said during a webinar hosted by the National Pork Board (NPB). “This situation is still in its infancy. Many people likely don’t understand the mental toll it’s having at depopulation sites.”
Farmers are also dealing with the stress of depressed commodity prices and fractured demand due to the pandemic, along with weather issues and a host of other challenges, that should be managed from a mental health perspective, according to Ted Matthews, director of Rural Minnesota Mental Health.
“Our emotions are really fragile right now,” Matthews said during the NPB webinar. “You need to focus on what you can do. Even little things will help.”
Communication ranks as one of the top reactions to reduce stress, starting with family members and friends.
Farmers under stress should also consider reaching out to clergy, farm extension services and social services for help.
“As the stress level gets higher, we don’t know how much we can handle,” Matthews said. “Anything we can do to lower that helps. Communication is the key.
“But, when people hear ‘mental health,’ many think, ‘mental illness.’ They think, ‘I’m not crazy,’ and they don’t do anything,” he noted. “Mental health is just that, feeling better about yourself and your situation.”
A key to improving mental health revolves around limiting anger during stressful times. Anger can lead to poor decisions which compound issues on farms.
“A tendency under stress is to get angry,” Matthews said. “Keeping anger under control is important.”
Mental health also improves as people understand and appreciate the differences between personalities.
“We all know the difference between introverts and extroverts, but what we don’t understand is how it affects relationships,” Matthews said. “By breaking down differences in personalities, we can find ways to come together in a relationship.”
One of Matthews’ top concerns amid the stressful times centers on suicide.
“The suicide level in farming is incredibly high,” he said. “We all need to remember nobody in your family would be better off if you’re not there.”
He’s also concerned about the effect of possible farm bankruptcies on mental health. He encourages farmers to not get hung up on factors beyond their control.
“Be nice to yourself when things go bad. We tend to blame ourselves,” he added. “Hopefully no farmer ever has to lose a farm, but, if you do, there is life after the farm. There’s people to help you from point A to point B.”