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Serving: IN
tractor stuck in mud Fred Whitford
TOTAL FRUSTRATION: This picture could be the poster child for 2019. What doesn’t show is the stress and pent-up frustration caused by a situation such as this.

Time for open conversations about mental health in ag

If there’s a stigma attached to mental health issues, it needs to disappear!

If you farm, work for a farmer or work in agriculture and you haven’t felt stressed this year, maybe you’re not being honest with yourself. The 2019 growing season has been a fitful, fright-filled roller-coaster ride, and it’s not over. Throw that on top of two years of tight financial times, and it’s enough to make anyone edgy.

“I didn’t think stress was getting to me — I really didn’t,” says Randy Kron, president of Indiana Farm Bureau Inc. He and his family farm in Vanderburgh and Posey counties. He’s usually in his office in Indianapolis or on the road representing Indiana Farm Bureau. Yet the farm is on his mind, and occasionally he finds a couple of days to go home and help his wife and son.  

“Our directors want the president to stay involved if he farms, and this way I know exactly what they’re facing,” Kron says. “I guess it became all too true this spring.”

He relates this story: During the heart of planting in early June, he found a couple of days to go home and climb into a tractor. “My secretary called me, and before we got very far, she told me I sounded different,” Kron reflects. “I told her maybe I had a cold. No, she was adamant it was my tone of voice. She said I was relaxed. She had noticed I was tensing up in the office; she just didn’t say anything.

“I honestly didn’t notice it. I thought I was fine. But looking back, yes, I probably was worried about whether we would get the crop planted.

“But the real take-home message was this. If I didn’t even think it was bothering me, but it was, and other people could tell it, how many other people are being affected?”

Talk it out

There are no hard numbers to answer Kron’s question. But there’s anecdotal evidence. And based on that, it appears that the mental stress of getting a crop in, and now preparing to get it out — all the while knowing finances could be even more uncertain after this year — is getting to many people.

Many groups are trying to address this situation. Purdue University Extension has offered several programs already, with more to come. Bruce Kettler of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture says his agency is studying what the best course of action might be. Several members of the Indiana AgriInstitute Class 18 put together “Healing in the Heartland,” a one-day forum in September that will bring together lots of people to talk and learn about the inherent danger of mental stress.

“We all needed to have a conversation, and it had to start somewhere,” says Sarah Wagler, a member of the AgriInstitute team that organized the symposium. “We wanted to raise awareness that this is a real issue. Hopefully, there is synergy in bringing people together, and conversations will continue.”

Let’s hope so. The worst possible option if mental stress creeps up on you is saying nothing about it to anyone. Based on personal experience, and depending on the severity of it, you may need to seek professional help. At the very least, know it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Unfortunately, it’s part of the legacy of 2019 in Indiana agriculture.  

Seek out the help you need so we can all look forward to a brighter 2020.

Comments? Email tom.bechman@farmprogress.com.

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