Navigating Farm Stress

Ted Matthews

Jan 25, 2019

Much has been written about the high rate of suicide among farmers. People ask me about numbers, how many, how often and by what means. Although I do work with families that go through the pain of a loved one taking their life, I would rather focus on a pro-active approach.

There are ways we can lower farm stress, and there are things that we can proactively look for - things that may be creating a severe sense of helplessness.

When I get a call from a loved one concerned about a family member talking of hurting themselves, I am usually told that the conflicted person does not want to call, and I am asked what they can do.

I believe, the best option is to talk to them directly. I recommend they ask their loved one to call me for their sake.

For instance, a daughter asks her father to call for her sake, so she can feel better. This often times is helpful.

If the person still refuses to call and you feel the threat is imminent, I would recommend involving others such as family members, clergy, friends or even law enforcement.

Some of you reading this may think it is a bit extreme, but my answer to that is always err on the side of safety.

If you are wrong, and that person will not hurt themselves, you have not wasted much, only a little time. If you are right, well that goes without saying. To do nothing at all is the worst option.

Making life better sounds simple, but it takes diligence and determination. Having the support of friends and family can make all the difference.

How do you make life better? In my experience, that can be done by improving communication and changing our perspective.

Again, it may sound simple, but it takes quite a bit of effort to change stuck patterns and to become an effective communicator.

Identifying the Issue: Communication

Let me start with communication, or the lack there of. When men feel stressed they tend to talk less. When things get overwhelming, men pull back; yet, women tend to want to talk more.

What often times happens is women get frustrated and give up trying to talk to their spouse.

The lack of wanting to communicate coupled with the isolation on the farm can lead men to sink further and further without anyone noticing.

Understanding that men and women have different strategies for communication and working with that is paramount. Men must also understand that opening up is not a sign of weakness - it is a sign of immense strength.

To overcome decades of conditioning that discourages men from being vulnerable, which is a basic human need, takes great strength indeed. Men and women are both emotional beings and sharing vulnerable feelings is healthy.

Changing Our Perspective to Live in a Better Reality

Humans have this habit of needing to label life as good or bad without considering all of the in-between.

We have a tendency to focus on the bad (what we can not change), instead of using our energy in a more productive way (looking at the good, which in most cases is greater than the bad).

In my practice, I like to say, “If you thought about why something happened, and you didn’t come up with an answer after looking at it 50 times, the chances are really good that you won’t come up with the answer on the fifty-first try”.

So, if we begin to focus on what we can change, and let go of the things we cannot, life will get better. Looking at things that have no solution does not mean it can't be better. If things go even 5% in the right direction, that is significant to your wellbeing!

There is no good reason to not try to improve life, even if the gains are only 5%. If you continue to look at each issue as a little better, it helps a lot. Life is not based on all or nothing, many times in life our decisions are difficult with no good solutions.

So when you pick the best option out of the options you have, it does not mean great or even good, it’s just the best you can do. Remember, if you don’t make the decision, someone else will make it for you. Now what are you going to do about it?

It is human nature to blame others or even things to try and make us feel better. What if you genuinely blame me, Ted, for all that has happened, and I mean truly blamed me.

With that over with, we now can focus on what can be done. Who’s fault something is, is in the past, the problem is now, and perhaps in the future. Nothing can be done with yesterday, but something can be done with tomorrow.

If you could increase your yields by 10 percent, you would without question. Why not apply that to your own wellbeing?

Self-care tends to be taboo in rural communities, but if you look at it as increasing your productivity, it starts to make sense.

Self-care is not a luxury, it is good management for optimal yield. We especially see this lack of good self management when it comes to harvest and sleep deprivation.

What can be done about it? If I am a person that needs 8 hours of sleep and I only get 5 hours for an extended period of time, the odds of an accident are greatly enhanced.

Why do we knowingly put ourselves in harm's way?

Fear of a four letter word - lazy. The easiest way to monitor that is to look at your pattern. Do not judge yourself in a negative way simply because you need more rest. We all have different bodies, physiology and needs - there is no shame in that.

Again, it’s good management to look at the inputs needed for maximum yield and provide them. Changing a bad situation may take time, but you can instantly improve it by remaining diligent about what thoughts you allow to dominate your mind each day, and by opening up to your family, which will improve your relationships.

I wish you well.

For more helpful advice about improving farmer mental health visit

The views expressed in this article are the author's alone and not those of Farmer's Business Network, Inc., its affiliates or members.

Ted Matthews

Jan 25, 2019