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Watching Out for Warning Signs of Farm Stress

Many factors associated with farm stress are uncontrollable, such as weather, commodity markets and the isolated nature of farming. (U.S. Dept. of Agriculture/Flickr)
Many factors associated with farm stress are uncontrollable, such as weather, commodity markets and the isolated nature of farming. (U.S. Dept. of Agriculture/Flickr)
March 12, 2018

FARGO, N.D. – North Dakotans and other people around the country working on farms face unique pressures in their profession – and there's even a term for it.

They're susceptible to what is called farm stress.

Monica McConkey, director of business development at Prairie St. John's Hospital in Fargo, grew up on a farm and understands firsthand the stress of tight budgets and unpredictable markets.

And she confirms what farmers already know – there are many aspects of the business they can't change.

"There are a lot of factors that play into that, really, including uncontrollable factors, such as weather, disasters, commodity markets, illness and injury, the isolation of farming and ranching," she explains.

Farmers in many areas are facing tough times, with prices well below production costs.

McConkey says the rural nature of farming can also mean a lack of mental-health resources. People working in agriculture have one of the highest suicide rates of any profession, according to a 2016 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study.

McConkey says it's important to recognize the signs of anxiety, because it's usually the people around farmers who notice when farmers are in distress.

People may start isolating themselves, their moods might become erratic, or their farm might be in disrepair.

McConkey says those who care about them should watch for changes in baseline behavior or routines, which could be as simple as not coming into town for a cup of coffee every day.

"Have that conversation with that person,” she urges. “'Are you doing OK?' And often it needs to be more than that, because a lot of farmers and ranchers are not doing OK right now. So sometimes, we need to dig a little deeper."

Anecdotally, McConkey has heard about more suicides in North Dakota farming communities, as well as an increase in substance abuse.

She adds farmers often don't want to be seen as needing help. Still, she hopes they reach out.

"It's that stigma that often keeps people from seeking help,” she states. “But even primary care – talking to your primary care doctor, or a faith community leader – is a place to start."

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ND