May was Mental Health Awareness Month but just because it's June doesn't mean it's not a topic worth discussing.
Tiffany Dowell Lashmet discussed mental health and agriculture with Adrienne DeSutter in a recent "Ag Law in the Field" podcast and included a link to the conversation in her Texas Agriculture Law Blog.
"Adrienne’s background makes her perfect for this conversation," Lashmet wrote in her recent blog. "Not only does she have a counseling degree, but she is also a farm wife who has spoken extensively about mental health and agriculture."
"I grew up in rural Illinois surrounded by fields but I was not involved in agriculture at all, so to be honest I couldn't have even told you what was being grown in those fields. I'm super embarrassed to say that now but it's the reality," DeSutter said in the podcast. "But 10 years ago, I met a farmer and told myself I wasn't going to move back to the area after college but when you marry a farmer you marry the farm, as they say."
Between DeSutter's passion for mental health and her husband's passion for agriculture, she decided to combine the two. But what pushed her to concentrate on mental health in ag was a suicide that occurred in 2018 by a family friend.
"So, my job is to create connectedness in agriculture. We're all so isolated and we share a lot of the same issues and strangely enough, we don't realize we share the same stresses," DeSutter said.
Her goal is to connect those in agriculture with mental health and the needed resources. "There are people out there that need to know there are mental health resources and want to know the signs to look for and they need to know that we all have mental health. We all have stress."
The question often asked following a suicide is, 'How did this happen?' "There isn't one thing that happens that creates someone's mentality to get to that point. But it starts with stress and it starts with mental health conditions that are either unmet or misunderstood or undiagnosed, untreated," DeSutter said.
As DeSutter and her husband discussed the stress in their own lives, on their own farm and within their marriage and family, she said, "We were going through a lot and were starting to lose control of our stress. I said, if you want to know where stress and eventually suicide comes from it's right here, what we're living. This stress, when we don't do anything about it, when we're losing control, this is where it starts, so we've got to something now. And my husband and I agreed, we've got to make some changes and we did."
Ag is a perfect storm when it comes to stresses, DeSutter told Lashmet. "We've got isolation all the time. We've got uncontrollable factors all the time: the weather, disease, and pests. There are so many things that are out of our control. We started planting here at what we thought was an ideal time, and of course, there came rain, which we couldn't control. Now we've got to replant some.
"That's the kind of stuff that happens all the time in agriculture so you feel almost like a failure all the time. You have things that happen and even though they are out of your control and even though you couldn't have guessed they were going to happen the way they did, they can make or break your financial situation, make or break the way you do things on the farm and essentially it's out of your control. But you still feel like you failed."
DeSutter said as farmers and ranchers, we are good about paying attention to the stress in our crops and livestock so we can respond as quickly as possible but "unfortunately, we don't do that for ourselves. We don't pay attention to how deep we can go in our stresses and how safely we can take care of ourselves as much as we take care of other things on the farm."
To hear more, listen to their conversation about why mental health is such an important issue within the agriculture industry, and some tips for dealing with stress. "I’m a believer that the best defense is a good offense, so I am hopeful that our conversation can give folks some ideas of steps to take to help handle stress, anxiety, and depression before a crisis arises," Lashmet said.
To hear more of their conversation (audio only), click here.
Mental health resources and places of encouragement:
- follow DeSutter on Twitter @SowHopeGrowHope or Jason Medows, a Missouri farmer and host of Ag State of Mind @AgStateOfMind1