For farmers and ranchers, stress is a way of life. We depend on many factors that are out of our control, like weather, commodity prices, availability of labor, trade markets, and a lot more. With the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, our stress levels have gone even higher and in many cases are reaching the breaking point.

A new survey from the American Farm Bureau found that more than half of rural adults and farmers/farmworkers say they are personally experiencing more mental health challenges than they were a year ago. Two in three farmers/farmworkers say the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted their mental health, and two in three have experienced feeling nervous, anxious, or on edge during the pandemic.

The percentage of farmers/farmworkers who say social isolation impacts farmers’ mental health increased 22% since April 2019, a significant finding given the long hours many farmers work alone.

This should be a wake-up call for everyone in the agriculture community, and we should all be doing our part to help.

As part of Agricultural Safety Awareness Week (Feb. 28-March 6), Oregon Farm Bureau encourages everyone to learn to recognize the warning signs of chronic stress, engage in conversations, and lend a helping hand.

When loved ones, neighbors, or others we care about are experiencing mental health challenges, they may not even realize it, so it’s important to look for signs that they may be at risk. These include things like changes in routines or social activities, decline in appearance of the farm or the care of domestic animals, increase in farm accidents, increase in illnesses or other chronic conditions, or decreased interest in activities or events.

If you see any of these signs, it’s time to show you care.

It may feel like it’s out of your comfort zone, but there are simple ways to start a conversation. Remind them of something they’ve said about what’s concerning them, and express interest.

Acknowledge what they’re going through. Share a habit you’ve seen change. And if you’re concerned, don’t wait for them to ask for help. Offer to help connect them to the many resources that are available for support.

What matters most is showing genuine care and empathy, and listening.

It’s time we all took a stand to help those around us who may be experiencing the effects of chronic stress. Visit the Farm State of Mind website at farmstateofmind.org for more information about the warning signs of stress, tips for helping someone in emotional pain, ways to start a conversation, crisis hotlines, treatment locators, and additional resources for managing stress, anxiety or depression.

If we all do our part to help, we can strengthen our rural and farming communities and shine a ray of hope on those we care about.

Cory Stengel chairs the Oregon Farm Bureau Health and Safety Committee.

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