Have you recently discussed your anxiety with a family member or friend? Or, has a friend of yours with anxiety or depression been more open with you? If so, we’re on the right track, according to a new research poll from the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF). Farmers, ranchers and people in rural areas are more comfortable talking about stress and mental health challenges with others. And the stigma around seeking help or treatment has decreased in rural and farm communities but is still a factor. 

This encouraging news means that it’s important to keep the momentum going in talking about mental health and providing resources for our farm and ranch families. 

“I tend to believe at the root of agriculture after God, is family and then friends,” says Arizona Farm Bureau Women’s Leadership Chair and AFBF western regional representative Shawn Wood, also in generational farming with her family.  “Our core family concerns at the end of the day for one another is a package of considerations: are they fed, are business matters tended to, and how are they ‘doing.’”

AFBF conducted the survey of rural adults and farmers/farmworkers to measure changes and trends in stigma, personal experiences with mental health, awareness of information about mental health resources and comfort in talking about mental health with others. The poll results were compared with previous surveys AFBF conducted in 2019 and 2020 focusing on farmer mental health, and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on farmer mental health, respectively.

“Farm Bureau has been encouraging conversations to help reduce stigma around farmer stress and mental health through our Farm State of Mind campaign,” said AFBF President Zippy Duvall. “This poll shows that we are making a difference, but we all still have work to do. It’s up to each of us to keep looking out for our family, friends and neighbors and let them know they’re not alone when they feel the increased stress that comes with the daily business of farming and ranching.”

Morning Consult conducted the poll on behalf of AFBF and the state Farm Bureaus in December 2021 among a national sample of 2,000 rural adults. Key findings include:

  • The stigma around seeking help or treatment for mental health has decreased but is still a factor, particularly in agriculture. Over the past year, there has been a decrease in rural adults saying their friends/acquaintances (-4%) and people in their local community (-9%) attach a stigma to seeking help or treatment for mental health. But most rural adults (59%) say there is at least some stigma around stress and mental health in the agriculture community, including 63% of farmers/farmworkers. 
  • Farmers/farmworkers are more comfortable talking to friends, family and their doctors about stress and mental health than they were in 2019. Four in five rural adults (83%) and 92% of farmers/farmworkers say they would be comfortable talking about solutions with a friend or family member dealing with stress or a mental health condition, and the percentage of farmers/farm workers who say they would be comfortable talking to friends and family members has increased 22% since April 2019. 
  • A majority of rural adults (52%) and farmers/farm workers (61%) are experiencing more stress and mental health challenges compared to a year ago, and they are seeking care because of increased stress. Younger rural adults are more likely than older rural adults to say they are experiencing more stress and mental health challenges compared to a year ago, and they are more likely than older rural adults to say they have personally sought care from a mental health professional. 

Arizona Farm Bureau is focused on this issue on behalf of its farm and ranch members. In addition to a conference this summer on the topic, Arizona Farm Bureau is working with the University of Arizona Extension to provide resources for the rural and agriculture community.  

“Working in the agriculture industry can be difficult and stressful,” says Arizona Farm Bureau President Phil Bashaw. “Sometimes the responsibility that comes with caring for their land, animals and families can be overwhelming. No one should have to carry this weight on their own when friends, communities, and resources exist to help. I am encouraged to know the efforts that make it easier for our members and rural communities to access assistance in shouldering these burdens are working.”

Maricopa County Farm Bureau Executive Director Liz Foster says, “Farm Bureau has worked hard over the last couple years to take the stigmatism away from mental health and get resources to our rural communities. It used to be something we didn’t talk about but now we are treating mental health like heart conditions, cancer and other medical conditions. Instead of ignoring it, we are seeing doctors, starting treatment instead of ignoring the problem. The work done to train both gatekeepers (those in the community who are not medically trained) and professionals on signs to look for with the agriculture community is starting to show results. Professionals are learning that just because demographics are similar on paper, those in agriculture have been raised vastly different and the emotional response to situations is very different and needs to be handled and treated differently.”

Both Bashaw and Foster are working with U of A Extension on the Mental Health efforts to provide more information and resources.

If you or someone you know is struggling emotionally or has concerns about their mental health, visit the Farm State of Mind website at farmstateofmind.org for information on crisis hotlines, treatment locators, tips for helping someone in emotional pain, ways to start a conversation and resources for managing stress, anxiety or depression. Additionally, stay tuned for additional resources from the Arizona Farm Bureau and U of A Extension. 

Adds Wood, “If these last two years have brought anything to light, it’s that life is precious, how we live life matters and those in our lives are important. The care for one another’s health, whether it’s mental health or any other aspect of health, isn’t hard, it’s simply caring. The added layers of the last two years, I believe have shed some light on the importance of taking care of ourselves and one another, including mental health.”

This year’s summer leadership conference in July, hosted by the Arizona Farm Bureau Women’s Leadership Committee, will focus on mental health. Watch for more information at azfb.org.