Farmers Die by Suicide 3.5 Times More Often Than the General Public. Here’s Why.

Farmers Die by Suicide 3.5 Times More Often Than the General Public. Here’s Why.

  • Heather Decker

Mental health struggles, or farm stress, is not often discussed in rural communities. But these silent struggles result in a suicide rate among farmers that is 3.5 times higher than the general public’s. 

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and Transfarmation acknowledges the toll that stress takes on a farmer’s mental and physical well-being. Stress and anxiety are linked to physical problems, such as headaches, memory loss, racing heart, and ulcers. It can also contribute to behavioral symptoms, such as isolation, violence, and substance abuse. 

What Is Farm Stress?

Farm stress is the strain experienced by farmers and their families because of the unique and challenging nature of farming. The isolation inherent in rural living can worsen the feeling, leaving many farming families feeling alone in their struggles. Additionally, more than 60% of rural Americans live in areas with a shortage of mental health providers, depriving many of access to care that they need.

For many, farming is more than an occupation; it’s both an identity and a legacy, with some farms tracing back centuries from generation to generation. A looming threat of losing the land can cause severe mental and physical distress.

What Are the Causes of Farm Stress?

The number one stressor for farmers is money. Unpredictable weather conditions, fluctuating market prices, and exploitative contracts that favor corporate integrators are all factors in creating financial instability. Many of the factors that determine a farm’s income are completely out of the farmers’ hands. 

“I lived in constant fear that they would let us go and we couldn’t pay the bills. That’s what ended up happening.”

Tom Lim, Transfarmation Farmer

Additionally, the demands of farm work are relentless. Paula Boles, a Transfarmation farmer, recalled in a Sentient Media article how she would wake throughout the night to an alarm alerting her to possible problems in her family’s chicken sheds. Her husband, Dale Boles, even missed their son’s college graduation, as he was unable to leave the farm because of operational concerns.

Farmers in contract relationships also struggle with the lack of control over their farms. Meat companies, commonly referred to as integrators, control the feed, conditions, medications, and the animals, leaving growers feeling like “indentured servants” on their own land. 

Despite the pervasive stigma around mental health and asking for help, resources specific to farmers are out there. As more organizations and offices recognize farm stress as a significant stumbling block, more help becomes available.

The Farmer Toolkit

In response to the pressing need for support, we’re proud to highlight the Farmer Toolkit—a guide with comprehensive resources, organized by both topic and region, which addresses the stressors faced by farmers. The Farmer Toolkit offers a lifeline to those navigating the complexities of farm life.

As we raise awareness about mental health this month, let’s not forget the farmers who toil tirelessly to feed our communities. By acknowledging the reality of farm stress and offering tangible solutions through resources like the Farmer Toolkit, we can empower farmers to prioritize their mental well-being and thrive both on and off the farm. Join us in breaking the stigma around mental health and extending a hand of support to those who need it most.