While communities continue to highlight mental health issues for farmers and ranchers across rural America, a Texas A&M AgriLife pair is creating mental health resources and driving awareness. Learn more about these efforts.
Farmers have relied on the weather and economics since the beginning. They wear many hats and rely heavily on often inconsistent and unpredictable factors to run their business, which often makes the job of a farmer vastly different from occupations in other fields.
Being a farmer often means relying on a strong hope to tide them through the many turbulent variables out of their control, as well as bearing the often heavy load of the demands and stresses surrounding those circumstances. The culmination of years bearing the weight of producing under such uncertainty can lead to many farmers and ranchers struggling with mental health obstacles. This is further compounded by the stigma of mental health issues often found in rural communities.
Tiffany Dowell Lashmet, J.D., associate professor and extension specialist in agriculture law with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, has taken on the issue of mental health as a personal interest and is advocating as a voice for the importance of mental health care and awareness in rural America.
“Ag producers have unique stressors and unique circumstances that other people don’t have to deal with, and we are at the mercy of things we cannot control like the weather, the market and input costs,” Lashmet said. “We cannot control any of these factors, and I think that there is a lot of stress that comes from that.”
She further explained for many producers, their family legacy is tied up with the farm or ranch operation, which adds a lot of pressure, as well. Lashmet is working to bring information, resources and content to help agriculture producers and rural America be more aware of and understand the importance of mental health.
“If you look at statistics of mental health issues in rural America, and agriculture specifically, we’re sort of in a crisis,” Lashmet said.
Lashmet and her colleague, Miquela Smith, Health Program Specialist with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, have partnered with the Southwest Center for Agricultural Health, Injury Prevention and Education (Southwest Ag Center) with the hopes of spreading mental health awareness and access to resources. Southwest Ag Center was created at the University of Texas in the Tyler Health Science Center to assist agricultural workers and their families by conducting programs, research, prevention, intervention and education.
Lashmet and Smith are working with the Southwest Ag Center to create video testimonials from people involved in agriculture sharing their stories or mental health journeys. The purpose of sharing these testimonies is to help show farmers and ranchers they are not alone and encourage others to share their own stories or reach out for help. These testimonies will soon be uploaded to Southwest Ag Center’s website, which can be found at www.uthct.edu/southwest-center-for-agricultural-health-injury-prevention-and-education-2/.
“When we are vulnerable enough to share our stories, I think that is where people realize that they are not alone and that other people are going through these things, as well.” Lashmet added. “Our stories can literally help save our neighbors.”
If you or someone you know is dealing with mental health issues, contact: 800-FARM-AID (327-6243) or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 988.
This story originally appeared in the Summer 2022 Issue of Sorghum Grower magazine.