As farmers, our relationships are paramount, and we are known for looking out for each other. When tragedy strikes one of our own in the form of death, disability or disease, we’re right there with a hot dish, a hug and harvesting equipment, depending on the time of year.
However, when the wounds are less visible – such as the scars that tear us apart on the inside – we clam up. Mental health is an uncomfortable topic, but it shouldn’t make us uncomfortable to try to get help for someone who’s hurting.
Think of the farmer stereotype: strong and stoic, but with big hearts. Hearts are being broken, though, especially with years of depressed prices and nonexistent margins. These pressures have destroyed marriages, broken homes, and for some – ended lives. Prolonged feelings of failure or of being a burden, despite every superhuman effort to do one’s best, can be the tipping point into full-blown anxiety and depression, and those strong hearts and broad shoulders are being crushed by the weight of the things they carry, often alone and in silence until it’s too late.
There are many signs that someone may be experiencing chronic stress, including talking about feeling hopeless, asking if they’re a burden to others, increased use of alcohol or use of controlled substances, withdrawing from normal activities or saying goodbye to family and friends.
If you see any of these warning signs in someone you know, or if something seems off but you can’t quite put a finger on it, trust your gut and take that leap. Ask them how they’re really doing aside from the usual shop talk about prices and weather. Open your heart and your ears, and take everything they say seriously.
If you think their life is in danger, ask them directly if they’re thinking about suicide. It’s a myth that talking about it will drive them to that point. If they are, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, available 24/7, to speak with a trained counselor, and stay with the person until help arrives.
Be prepared for the unexpected, for broken hearts to come undone right in your lap. It’s OK to not know exactly what to say or do for the person in that moment, but your time and compassion are two of the greatest gifts you can give to someone who’s hurting. You may not be able to take the storms of their life away, but you can sit with them during the storms until they pass.
Just remember that if something seems off about someone you know and love, say something. You’ll never regret making the ask, but you’ll always regret not asking when it’s too late.