PENNSYLVANIA, USA — It's not an easy time to be a farmer. In fact, the past two years may have posed the most significant challenges to agriculture workers in recent history.
As both a global pandemic and climate change continue to strike every corner of the Keystone State, many farmers have found themselves at a wicked crossroads of economic, environmental and personal stress. Not to mention the U.S. Department of Labor announced on Feb. 10 that inflation hit a 40-year high, causing trade disruptions, supply shortages and price hikes on everything from fertilizer to livestock feed.
To some extent, every farmer is a small business owner, and it doesn't require a genius to know that running a small business—especially one dependent on an increasingly volatile climate—is a stressful task even outside of recent historic events.
That's why Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding launched the AgriStress HelpLine, a mental health hotline specifically serving Pennsylvania farmers.
24 hours a day, seven days a week, any farmer or member of a farming family can call the helpline at 833-897-AGRI (2474), where they will be able to speak to a healthcare professional. The hotline is available at no cost to the caller.
“Our agricultural community faces unique challenges," said Redding. "Farmers often work alone, live where they work and encounter pressures of changing markets, unpredictable weather, business transitions and legacy. These stressors can weigh heavily on individuals and families, but help is available."
Mental health issues among farmers persisted at high rates even before coronavirus charged into the U.S.
A January 2020 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted the agriculture industry has one of the highest suicide rates compared to other industries around the nation.
Another report from the Center for Rural Pennsylvania said suicides in the commonwealth "increased substantially" between 1999 and 2018. That same study found rural county suicide rates were 25% higher than urban counties.
Substantial mental health issues among farmers and in rural communities are also worsened by stigma. Oftentimes, embarrassment—along with cost— contributes to farmers not seeking help, an obstacle Redding wants to overcome in Pennsylvania.
"We want folks to know that it’s ok to ask for help," he said.
Redding and State Senator Elder Vogel, the chair of the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, said they hope the AgriStress HelpLine provides a less daunting way for farm workers to receive mental healthcare.
“While farmers are traditionally less likely to seek professional help, it is vital that we connect those in the agricultural community with the necessary resources for them to obtain the help they need when dealing with a mental health issue,” said Vogel.
However, recent reports have shown that, even though the majority of farmers are experiencing more stress now than in previous years, more farmers are willing to reach out for help.
A December 2021 study from the American Farm Bureau Federation reported agriculture workers are more comfortable discussing mental health issues and stress with family, friends and doctors compared to 2019. The same report said that, in 2021, rural adults saw "more information about mental health, and there is increased acceptance for seeking help for stress or mental health issues."
Even with these promising findings, farmers are still some of the most vulnerable to loneliness and isolation, among other pressing obstacles to mental wellbeing. Increasing public awareness and access to free and confidential resources like the AgriStress HelpLine, as Vogel says, "is a major step forward" in combatting mental issues and stigma still widely prevalent in the agriculture industry.
If you or anyone you know is a farmer and struggling with any mental health issues, call the AgriStress HelpLine at 833-897-AGRI (2474).
For a list of other mental health services in central Pennsylvania, click here.