Breaking the Silence: Addressing Mental Health Among Dairy Farmers

Mental Health Awareness Month is important for everyone, including dairy farmers. Dairy farming is hard work. The long hours and physical labor can be stressful. Farmers often face challenges like bad weather, equipment problems, and fluctuating milk prices. These occupational hazards, coupled with the high risk of injury and the resultant chronic pain, exacerbate the stress levels experienced by farmers.

Farmers are more likely to experience symptoms of psychological distress, including burnout, hopelessness, and loss of self-esteem. Suicide rates among farmers are 2-5 times higher than the national average.

Conditions such as stress, depression, and anxiety disorders are prevalent, with stress manifesting through irritability, headaches, and trouble sleeping. Depression might present as sadness, anxiety, and decreased energy. Anxiety disorders can lead to panic attacks and disrupt social relationships. Recognizing these symptoms is the first step towards seeking help and managing stress effectively.

Recognizing Mental Health Awareness Month underscores the importance of dairy farmers taking care of their mental health, just as they should take care of their physical health.  Most of all, farmers should know they aren’t alone. Thousands of people across the country struggle with mental health every year. And even fellow MDVA members have dealt with the convergence of stress of work and stress at home.

When Kira Wetmore, the manager at the dairy at the Piedmont Research Station in North Carolina (an MDVA member), experienced added stress after her son Tate’s premature birth, she knew she needed someone else to talk to. Wetmore sought the counsel of a therapist, and she thinks it can help others dealing with concerns on the farm.

“Sometimes it’s important to hear that other people get help in other ways than just ‘being tough,’” Wetmore says, acknowledging that sometimes farmers have a notion that seeing a therapist does not meet the qualification of being tough. “A therapist can help you see things outside of how you’re seeing them,” Wetmore adds.

Farmers need support from their families and communities, too. Awareness can lead to conversations and actions that make a real difference. Simple acts like checking in with a neighbor or offering a kind word can help.

There is also a new number for mental health crises: 988. This number is easy to remember and can connect farmers to help quickly. If a farmer feels overwhelmed, calling or texting 988 can provide immediate support. It doesn’t replace 911 in an emergency, but it the new national initiative aims to bring mental health assistance to communities faster than ever before.

Our local family farmers care about their communities – but sometimes need a little care of their own. Mental Health Awareness Month reminds everyone that it’s okay to ask for help.