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Getting depressed is more likely now

By Larry McDermott

Life on the farm

 

If you are predisposed to depression, this is not a good time for you.

You need bright sunshine, rainless days, cool nights, stress-free news and the freedom to stretch your legs and do things that make you feel, “every little thing’s gonna be alright.”

Farmers across America are particularly vulnerable to depression these days, although they are not alone. People who have been accustomed to going to work every day but haven’t been in that routine for months because of the virus also are at risk.

But why are farmers victims of depression? After all, they have all that freedom to be outside with plants and animals, the freedom to be their own boss.

It is that freedom, and its attendant responsibilities, that have set farmers up to be the most likely to die from suicide in America today when compared with other occupations. Suicide among farmers has increased by 40 percent in less than two decades.

Farmers often are sons and daughters of farmers. It’s in their blood. Their fathers, mothers, grandparents and even great-grandparents milked cows, planted gardens, searched for the perfect bull, plowed fields, baled hay, slaughtered chickens, and performed hundreds of other agricultural jobs in order to pay the bills.

With that comes pressure to succeed. For some, simply surviving is success. But for others, success means being able to save enough money to afford to send their children to college or trade school, pay for health care, or God forbid, cover the cost of a catastrophic health crisis.

Farmers know how to farm. They know how to raise livestock and grow food for humans and animals. It’s the pressure from those forces they can’t control that heap on the weight of worry.

Weather is beyond their control. Always has been.

Big markets into which they ship their cattle and crops also are beyond their control. Instead, corporations pull the strings, manipulating the markets to get the outcome that is best for them.

Being powerless is a huge stressor contributing to depression, and the stigma associated with depression keeps many silent to the point of not even sharing their suffering with family, pastor or priest. Living rurally also often means isolation.

After all, farmers are supposed to be stoic and self-sustaining, right? They can fix anything. They make stuff grow right out of the ground, bring new life into the world and put food on your table. That should be reward enough, right? Yes and no.

An avalanche of crises ranging from plummeting commodity prices (down 50% since 2012), rising debt (up 33% since 2007), changing weather patterns and a fight with China have knocked farmers’ futures into a cocked hat.

Suicide experts believe these economic events alone don’t cause someone to take his or her life, but they can be the last straw for someone already suffering from depression.

For some, it is pride—the gnawing emotion of failing to sustain the family legacy.

If you know a farmer who is showing signs of depression, reach out to him or her. Talk about the stress everyone is under today. Offer them a couple of phone numbers: the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) or Farm Aid (800-327-6243).

Remind them of the new U.S. Department of Agriculture programs designed to help ease their financial burden.

Don’t assume just because they laugh and smile that everything is alright. For some, it is not.

Larry McDermott, a retired journalist, owns a 40-acre organic farm in Rutherfordton, where he grows blueberries, keeps bees and raises horses, dairy goats, and chickens. Email: hardscrabblehollow@gmail.com or see farm happenings at www.facebook.com/hardscrabblehollowfarmllc