How to help your stressed-out farm neighbors
Maybe it’s getting agitated over something that seems small. Or possibly not going to the diner for their regular cup of coffee. Both can be one of the many different signs of a stressed-out farm neighbor.
Other signs can come from the appearance of the farm, according to Kate Downes, the outreach director for Cornell University’s New York Farm Net. If a farm looks to be unusually run-down, or reversely, unusually well kept, it could be coming from the stress of the farm’s owner.
New York Farm Net was founded in 1986 by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University, in response to a nationwide farm crisis. The company provides crisis services, as needed, and has emphasized a more proactive approach in the agricultural community, according to its website.
Downes says after noticing initial signs of stress, there isn’t one specific statement that indicates farmer stress. Statements like, “I want this all to end,” “I can’t go on anymore,” or “It would be better if someone else has the farm” are obvious warning signs, but don’t always get vocalized, despite potential stress.
“It’s probably a lot more in the body language that you see, or just a casual conversation where they’re really agitated,” Downes says.
How to help
Once the suspicion is there, what can farmers do to help their neighbors?
“It’s really hard,” Downes says. “The best thing you can do is to show empathy rather than sympathy.”
She suggests letting farmers know they are heard by repeating back to them the main concerns they are expressing. An effective way to make farmers feel heard is to acknowledge the struggles and hardships they’re dealing with, then asking how they are handling the problems and taking care of themselves.
If there is suspicion that these signs of stress could lead to suicide, Downes has a recommendation on what to do.
“If you think that a person may be contemplating suicide, asking them about suicide is not going to plant that seed of completing suicide,” Downes says. “If you think they may harm themselves, ask them, ‘are you going to complete suicide? Are you going to harm?’ Ask them directly because they may be totally relieved that someone else sees how stressed-out they are.”
What not to say
After going through helpful things to say, many farmers are equally curious about what not to say during these times.
Downes urges people not to minimize the farmer’s trouble in anyway. Don’t compare them to other people you think may have it worse. If they think they need extra help, don’t discourage them.
“Encourage them to reach outside of their group, outside of themselves, and outside their farms for help,” Downes says. “Farming and isolation go hand in hand, unfortunately. Isolation also really leads to depression and can fuel that stress level. If they’re willing to reach out, support them in that way.”
There are a variety of resources available, depending on your need and preferred method.