Many people perceive farming as a sunny day spent holding kittens and driving the tractor through the beautiful fields of the countryside. Pictures show and stories tell us about the good things that farmers want to share. It comes as a shock to some to realize that whistling along during a bliss-filled day’s work on the tractor isn’t the typical day on the farm. It’s tough out there in the country. Getting soaked from the rain, boots filling to the rim with manure, spending the majority, if not all, of the night with a new calf or foal, and worrying every day about the farm as a business to support the family are the real sounds and snapshots of farming. Living and making a living out in the country isn’t what most folks think. A farm is a business. And if there is too much rain, or the herd gets sick, or the markets plummet, the farm’s success as a business is affected. Very few businesses can change so rapidly on a daily basis the way a farm can. Worrying about these changes that can happen takes a great toll in every farmer’s life on their social wellness.
Recognizing potential mental health concerns that go along with farming, AgrAbility spoke with an expert from the Gundersen Health System, Dr. Kimberly Lansing, Director of the Wisconsin Academy for Rural Medicine.
Lansing defined social wellness as: “Interactions with the environment and the people around you. Social wellness, like everything else, can be both good and bad and can affect your life negatively if you don’t take good care of it.”
Poor social wellness is common with farmers because they are so isolated from people, and they rarely get a break from work. “It’s tough to battle stress when you aren’t getting any relief,” Dr. Lansing explained. Stress can be many things when dealing with a farm and all it entails; it could be getting crops done before a storm, or dealing with bad markets, or, because of an accident, they can’t do things like before. No matter what the source of the stress is, or how much stress they endure, it’s important to get the needed help so it doesn’t spiral out of control.
Lansing noted, “We try to tie people to resources. AgrAbility is a lovely resource. They do adaptive things that help people cope with injuries or disabilities, whether it be physical or emotional, and help people to continue their career.”
Lansing recognizes how supportive the rural community is. “Everyone comes to the rescue when you know there’s a problem. It’s a lot easier when you have a physical problem. When people can see the problem they are very quick to offer help to each other,” Lansing said.
While we all can admit to helping a neighbor when we can see they are in physical distress, it’s harder to see and be able to help when the problem is one that can’t be seen. Poor social wellness, besides being affected by a physical injury, can also mean an emotional or mental health injury. Too much stress can cause different reactions in the brain, leading to a chemical imbalance. There’s nothing wrong with them, and they have nothing to be ashamed of.
Depression, anxiety or any other emotional health injury is just as much an injury as anything physical, and “It happens to a lot of people,” Dr. Lansing stated. And it can be helped.
Farmers sometimes let their health get too far gone before anything is done. Lansing reminds us that farmers are known for their independence and desire to solve their own problems—just getting through it or carrying on because it’s what they think they have to do. That they do this indicates the reason this mental and emotional stress is incurred by owners and operators of their own businesses. Farmers put a lot of thought into every decision they make; but farming is complicated and sometimes chores are rushed or safety is thrown to the wind, especially during emotional stress, which is why “we see so many injuries and have a need for AgrAbility,” stated Lansing.
Dr. Lansing describes, whether they seek to benefit from AgrAbility or not, positive or good social wellness is possible for everyone to achieve by simply doing a few small things every day. Taking time out from the farm and their daily schedule is very important. Having time to relax is key to keeping social wellness positive. More than that, though, it’s important to get off the farm or out of the house and interact with others. Dr. Lansing mentions that volunteering at a school or helping with a sports team or community group can make a difference. Whatever it may be, having more than just farm animals to talk to is beneficial and essential for good health.
Another good thing to do is to get out and exercise! Just taking a short walk every day can help clear the mind, and allow them the chance to stop working and think about what is really important and needs to be done, compared to some of the smaller things that don’t need so much focus. Poor health can catch up quickly, so they will do their farm and loved ones a favor by keeping social wellness positive.
In conclusion, according to Gundersen Health, “That’s where AgrAbility comes in, trying to keep these folks in their professions.”
If friends or loved ones are showing signs of isolation, more anger or frustration than usual or seem to be suffering in general from mental health issues, or poor social wellness, Dr. Lansing encourages you to have that conversation with them, and get them the help or resources that they need.
– Kenzie Sarbacker, AgrAbility of Wisconsin Intern