Farmers and ranchers are some of the most resilient people I know. They weather incredible odds, pun intended, from droughts, to floods, fire, hail, blizzards and more. This doesn’t even touch the volatile input costs, family dynamics, inflation and increased regulations we are seeing. Despite these adversities, we pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and continue to provide for our families while often being the first to give the shirts off our own backs for a neighbor in need.
But what happens when that proverbial bootstrap snaps? Do we fix it right away and make it whole again, or do we slap a little duct tape and bailing wire on it and call it good? While that solution may work for a short time, the tape will eventually lose its sticky and the wire will start poking one in the calf. That’s when a whole new set of challenges surface.
In my own life, agriculture has provided me with some of life’s greatest highs, but it has also contributed to some of my darkest lows. It is curious how something we love so much can cause so much stress, and we often ignore or fail to address the signs.
Several years ago, I invited a counselor with an agriculture background to my classroom. He walked students through an exercise where they wrote down all the agriculture-related stressors they could think of. Within a few short minutes, one group had listed more than 40. Upon evaluation, class members determined the only thing in all those items we could control was ourselves. That left more than 40 other major items that we had little to no control over. Talk about the perfect storm for some real stress in our industry!
Using the results from the exercise, our guest speaker guided us through an eye-opening experience to help us learn how we view and handle our stress. Those in the room realized they weren’t alone, and there are others who have experienced similar stressors. That may have been just as powerful as any coping skill we could have learned — we are not alone in the battles we face in agriculture.
Some battles we face are short and quick. They may annoyingly take our time and make us uncomfortable, but we can quickly adjust to take on another day. Some battles rage on for months and even years. Even the toughest, most resilient warriors can get worn down. In some cases, the burden is so great it feels like the battle may never end or we may be left behind on the field. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Our fellow members within the Farm Bureau family are standing up and recognizing that something needs to change. Farmers and ranchers are passionate about this topic because we’ve lived it or have seen our families and friends struggle with it. We are sounding the alarm, rallying the troops and fighting alongside each other to ensure no one is left on the field alone.
Maybe you know something needs to change mentally but taking that first step to attack the topic of mental health is scary. Maybe the first step is opening up to a trusted friend, family member, doctor, pastor or exploring some resources to learn more. Perhaps you’re not experiencing any of your own mental health battles at the moment but would like to learn how to be an ally.
While these don’t substitute for the opinion of a health care professional, Kansas Farm Bureau (KFB) has been building an arsenal of resources that may serve as good place to start. You can find them by searching for Rural Minds Matter at kfb.org. “Kansas Living,” KFB’s quarterly lifestyle magazine, featured three members who have experienced challenges, and are working to help themselves and others. Read more at www.kansaslivingmagazine.com or visit KFB’s YouTube channel to hear their stories firsthand. KFB’s Women’s Leadership Committee (WLC) teamed up with KFB’s Young Farmers & Ranchers Committee at the organization’s annual meeting in December for a three-part farm family resilience workshop series. The WLC also plans to host a women’s wellness retreat in November.
These are just a few examples of how farmers and ranchers are mobilizing and working together to offer a hand to friends and family when a bootstrap wears thin. It will take all of us doing our part to end the stigma, but together we can help ourselves, friends, families and communities continue to be healthy and resilient.
If you or someone you know are experiencing an immediate emergency, call or text the national suicide hotline at 998.
“Insight” is a weekly column published by Kansas Farm Bureau, the state’s largest farm organization whose mission is to strengthen agriculture and the lives of Kansans through advocacy, education and service. This column is by Laura Haffner, Ellis County farmer. Visit kfb.org.