Due to uncontrollable factors such as weather conditions, machinery, and stock markets, farmers and ranchers can experience high levels of stress that can lead to mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety.
Farmers and ranchers are five times more likely to commit suicide than the general population, according to the National Farmers Union.
Interchurch Ministries of Nebraska noticed the increasing numbers of people in rural areas seeking mental health treatments.
“We’ve been seeing the trend go up all year long,” said Jerry Albright, executive director at Interchurch Ministries of Nebraska. “The stress is really very strong right now and it’s leading people into therapy.”
The illness stems from the constant changes within the agriculture industry, said Jill Colegrove. Colegrove is the owner and therapist at Colegrove Counseling Center, 1460 35th Ave.
She says that weather inconsistencies are one of the major causes of stress among farmers and ranchers. Excess rain can wash out crops during plantation season and high winds and hail can damage crops. Although most of these damages are covered by insurance, farmers can still lose profits.
“It is something to help compensate but it is still not what they’re relying on,” Colegrove said.
These damages can lead to high levels of stress among farmers, ranchers and their families.
Even when the weather permits, most farmers spend excruciatingly long hours in their fields, Colegrove said.
“It is not uncommon that you see a tractor in a field at 10 or 11 o’clock at night with the lights on working,” she said.
Every season, it is common for farmers to experience machinery breakdowns that delay planting and harvest.
Agricultural technologies are making advancements every year but they come with a price. People in the industry take out loans to afford these technologies. The bigger the loans, the fewer profits farmers make, she said.
When farmers do complete harvest, they rely heavily on the stock market for sales. The prices can fluctuate immensely which leads to financial inconsistencies. Farmers can either lose or profit from the sale of their crops, she said.
“So there’s a lot of instability which ultimately creates a lot of stress,” Colegrove said. “That stress can eventually start weighing on a person and can lead to some depression and anxiety.”
Colegrove said that the first step people should take to battle mental illnesses is self-care but it can be tough for farmers and ranchers to practice efficient self-care because of how labor-intensive their operations are.
Time is crucial for people in this industry which makes taking time off difficult. The long hours cause inconsistency in sleep patterns. Even when farmers and ranchers want to seek mental help, it can be tough for them to take time off from work.
“People today are working longer hours and are working harder,” Colegrove said. “They want more and you see that across the board.”
Therapists at Colegrove Counseling Center try to overcome this issue by offering flexible hours for their clients.
“The other thing that we really struggle with is getting providers in rural communities,” Colegrove said.
Rural areas have a lack of mental health service providers which exacerbates the issue by 60 percent, a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows.
People living in areas with limited providers can seek help through telehealth. It is a technology that allows people to communicate with physicians virtually and is commonly available at local hospitals.
Most farmers buy independent medical insurances in the market. It tends to be more expensive and more often than not, mental health counseling sessions are not covered or have deductibles of $8,000 to $10,000. This means that farmers have to pay for sessions on their own which can lead to more financial stress, Colegrove said.
“So it’s not that they do not want counseling but they’re worried about the financial piece,” she said.
Colegrove Counseling Center partnered with Region 4 to help eliminate that financial burden by covering the costs.
“So we are always trying to educate people that there is a way to get the help that does not have to put a huge dent in your checkbook,” Colegrove said.
Interchurch Ministries of Nebraska offers financial relief through its Counseling Outreach and Mental Health Therapy (COMHT) program, in collaboration with the Nebraska Department of Health. The program covers the cost of five mental health counseling session for anyone living in the rural area by providing vouchers.
Albright processed 243 vouchers this month and a third of that number comes from the Columbus Area, he said.
The National Farmers Union along with 36 farm and rural advocacy groups are urging Congress to make treatments for mental health more accessible through funding by Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN).
“It was an effort to try and raise awareness with legislatures that we have a serious problem,” Albright said. “We are hoping that they will be attentive to that and provide some sort of legislation that will allow us to expand programs like the COMHT program.”