Farmers and other rural Americans at high risk for stress, mental health challenges, suicide

By for CAES News

Rural Americans, especially those working in agriculture, need more support to help with stressors, and for the treatment of mental illness, addiction and the prevention of suicide, according to Anna M. Scheyett, dean of the University of Georgia’s School of Social Work.

Scheyett, who has more than 25 years of experience researching severe mental illness and the services designed to promote recovery, will join other experts from across the country Dec. 10 and 11 in the Crowne Plaza Atlanta-Airport for a conference titled “Rural Stress: Promising Practices and Future Directions.” All news media are welcome to attend.

Here, Scheyett shares some of her perspective on mental health among farmers, and why it’s so important that new strategies are developed to help this unique population.

Why are farmers at a higher risk for mental illness and suicide?

“This can be a hard life. So much of what farmers do is out of their control, and this can lead to very high levels of stress. No matter how hard you work, you cannot change the weather, you cannot change the economy. That can lead to an intense feeling of helplessness, particularly after a natural disaster like Hurricane Michael here in Georgia or wildfires in California.”

“Because of geographic isolation in some rural areas, farmers may have only a few close friends and family members, so relationship problems can be incredibly stressful.

“This is a complex problem, and there is no one thing that will fix it.”

So how do we begin to solve such a complex issue?

“It will take a multi-pronged approach. There is a whole continuum of things that we can do, but I think it’s all got to start within that farming community. We have to understand the needs of this community so we can connect them with the tools they need.

“An intervention is only as good as it is acceptable, and ideally the details of what’s needed to help farmers will come from farm communities themselves. I’m a firm believer that if you get a community together and have them talking genuinely, they know best what they need, and we can work together to help them get it.”

What role does the Rural Stress conference play in this process?

“We’re bringing in experts from all over the country who have been working on this problem in new and interesting ways so that we can learn from each other, but this conference is really geared towards action. We want to develop clear next steps.

“These people play such a crucial role in our society. They feed us, for heaven’s sake, and they are owed this kind of attention and support.”

For more information about the Rural Stress Conference, see ruralstress.uga.edu. For more information about Anna M. Scheyett, see ssw.uga.edu/faculty/scheyett.html.

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