Seeking support for stress management in rural America

Farm and Food

Rural America has faced a series of major disturbances in the past few years and those can take a toll on mental health, especially for farmers and ranchers and their families.

COVID-19 disruptions to markets and even to having daily conversations followed floods, wind storms, and trade wars to pile on to the usual uncertainties of the agriculture industry.

According to the American Psychological Association, because of these precarious circumstances, along with other factors, mental health professionals are concerned about the rate of undiagnosed mood disorders and substance misuse in farming communities.

In Nebraska specifically, stress levels have risen among farmers and ranchers and their families over the last few years, elevating the need for assistance through counseling and other options for many rural families.
Michelle Soll, manager of Legal Aid of Nebraska’s Farm and Ranch Project, has helped maintain their Rural Response Hotline throughout this time of need.

“A lot of things have impacted farmers and ranchers,” Michelle said. “Over the last few years, they have faced the devastation of ice storms, then floods, and then the impact of COVID-19—there has just been so much stress that it led to all these triggering factors in a row, too much at once, and now they’re facing some depression, with a lot of family dynamic issues going on at the same time.”

Michelle says many farmers and ranchers depend on their spouses working outside the farm to bring in income, and many of those jobs changed because of the pandemic. The resulting lifestyle turmoil also caused some of their school-aged children to seek out counseling due to loneliness or because they were negatively acting out in new and different ways. These disruptions combined with low prices for many commodities, loss of many livestock market options, and changes to other traditional markets created unprecedented uncertainty and stress for farm and ranch families.

“Nebraska got hit pretty hard,” said Michelle. “A lot of states did, but as an ag-based state, we really got nailed. At the Hotline, we work together to make sure these mental health services are available, and I’m hoping some of our clients are feeling better now that things are opening back up and there’s not so much isolation.”

Though the country is returning to a place that allows for more opportunities to socialize with family, friends, and neighbors, there are still those experiencing lingering effects from the last few years. If you, or someone you know, is dealing with depression, anxiety, or other stress factors, there are several sources of help.

Some stress management resources for farmers and ranchers include:

  • National Suicide Prevention Hotline, if you are in immediate need of crisis intervention, please reach out
    • 800.273.8255
  • Farm Aid Hotline 
    • 800.FARM.AID (800.327.6243) (Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. CT)
  • Nebraska Rural Response Hotline
    • Maintained through Legal Aid of Nebraska’s Farm and Ranch Project, the Rural Response Hotline offers free services to individuals and families throughout rural Nebraska, with a particular (though not exclusive) emphasis on agriculture.
    • Legal Aid of Nebraska, Interchurch Ministries, and the Rural Response Council, with other supporters, maintain the Rural Response Hotline, which started during the farm crisis in the 1980s. It is the longest, continuously running farm hotline in the nation.
    • Assistance is available throughout Nebraska to farm, ranch, and rural callers: 800.464.0258.
  • Farm Crisis Center
    • A compilation of resources put together by the National Farmers Union to help farmers work through a variety of stressful issues.
  • ​AgriStress Response Network
    • Launched through the AgriSafe Network, this resource aims to eliminate the stigma of seeking support for mental health including depression, anxiety, and farmer suicide.
    • To connect with the AgriStress Response Network, find them on Facebook, or for more information, contact Dr. Tara Haskins at 318.545.5400 or thaskins@agrisafe.org.

Other resources can be found in our previous blogs: Managing stress on the farm or ranch and 10 helpful resources for farmers.