2019 has been an extraordinarily bad year for agriculture, and the extra mental stress it has placed on producers sends many of them looking for relief, not always in good ways.
Farming is a high-risk business, and the risk of mental health challenges can as important as the financial hazards farmers face. The Mississippi State University Extension Service has identified this need and stepped in to provide support and aid.“Farming is a high-risk business,” Robertson said. “Farmers are committed and courageous, but many factors affecting their businesses are beyond their control. These stressors, along with a greater risk of getting injured on the job, can lead to farmers turning to substance misuse or internalizing stress until it consumes them.”
The PReventing Opioid Misuse In the SouthEast — or PROMISE — initiative is a multilevel approach to help Mississippians combat the opioid crisis.
Mary Nelson Robertson, PROMISE initiative coordinator, said MSU Extension agents are now trained in mental health first aid to support and assist farmers, farm families and communities across Mississippi.
Robertson said weather, unstable markets and an increasing debt load are making life harder for farmers and those living in rural communities.
“Farmers are increasingly dependent on income from second, off-farm jobs for economic survival,” she said.
Keith Coble, MSU Extension Service agricultural economist and head of the MSU Department of Agricultural Economics, said agriculture is always subject to the whims of the world market. This year, those whims seem more pronounced than usual.
“Today, we have a roller coaster of daily news related to the trade war with China,” Coble said. “All of this back and forth and uncertainty has the effect of leaving farmers stressed and worried.”
Although uncertainties are a way of life, especially in farming, 2019 began with already low market prices for many commodities.
“We started off this year knowing it was likely not to be a very profitable year because of the relatively low price levels of markets,” Coble said. “I think farmers were nervous then, and things that have happened since then continue to make them more so.”
Compounding the problem of this year’s economic pressures is the fact that producers tend to be independent individuals who keep their problems to themselves.
“Farmers tend to be really tough, hard workers, and asking for help is not something they’re very accustomed to doing,” Coble said. “You wouldn’t be in farming if you weren’t pretty tough, but recent, mounting economic pressures are more than some can handle on their own.”
The PROMISE initiative operates through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. It uses community engagement forums to assess the need for education on the topic of mental health issues and opioid abuse, and then Extension Service agents provide peer-to-peer education. There are also safe places for people to dispose of unused opioid medications.
Those who need help are urged to call the Mississippi Department of Mental Health Helpline at 1-877-210-8513. For more information on the PROMISE initiative, visit http://msuext.ms/promise.