For immediate mental health needs, please contact one of these national hotlines:
Farmers and ranchers in the U.S. have demanding jobs that are often compounded by economic uncertainty,
vulnerability to weather events, and isolation. Rural agricultural communities may also have limited access to
healthcare and mental health services, which can make it difficult for farm and ranch families to receive
support when they are experiencing extreme stress, anxiety, depression, or another mental health crisis.
Addressing mental health challenges is critical so that farmers can successfully navigate other stressors that
are common in their day-to-day lives.
In recent years, the
economic outlook for farmers and ranchers has been worsening, leading to comparisons to the Farm Crisis
of the 1980s. Increasingly, agricultural families and communities are struggling, contributing to higher rates
suicide among farmers.
This Issue Guide was developed in response to this rising mental health crisis in farming communities. It is
designed to provide information about federal, state, and nonprofit resources and promising programs in rural
communities that are addressing mental health needs in these populations. It also includes sections about key
organizations working on mental health and agriculture issues and stakeholders who may be positioned to offer
support to farmers and their families.
Understanding Farmers' Mental Health Concerns
During the Farm Crisis of the 1980s, the suicide rate among farmers and ranchers increased dramatically, as
explained in The Farm Crisis, a 90-minute
documentary by Iowa Public Television that examines this period. As the U.S. experiences the largest farming
since the 1980s, these issues have taken on new urgency. A 2020 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report
(MMWR) article, Suicide Rates by
Industry and Occupation — National Violent Death Reporting System, 32 States, 2016, reports a male
suicide rate of 43.2 per 100,000
among farmers and ranchers in 2016, compared to 27.4 per 100,000 among male working aged adults across all
In this video, experts from national farm organizations discuss the challenges facing today's farmers, warning
suicide, and how communities can help farmers and their families:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines
mental health as:
“an important part of overall health and well-being. Mental health includes our emotional, psychological,
social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress,
to others, and make healthy choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and
adolescence through adulthood.”
People experiencing a great deal of stress or living with mental health issues may struggle to maintain healthy
relationships, have difficulty succeeding at work, or otherwise experience challenges while managing the demands
of their daily lives.
Over the past few years, farmers and ranchers have experienced significant economic stressors, including:
- Falling commodity prices
- Natural disasters that have harmed crop yields and reduced herds and flocks
- Increasing levels of farm debt
- Labor shortages
- Trade disputes
While financial concerns are a major factor impacting farmer stress, they are not the only concerns. In addition
the ongoing challenges and stressors of farm life, farmers and their businesses have been impacted by the
COVID-19 pandemic. They face challenges related to their own stress, the health and safety of their families and
employees, and a wide range of global or national-level concerns, such as disruptions to food supply networks
and the food service industry. The COVID-19 pandemic has also been disruptive to the social lives of farmers,
preventing some from attending church services and connecting with fellow farmers at local cafes. Building Farm Resilience
During COVID-19 is a collection of resources developed by the Cornell Small Farms Program to help
farmers and communities.
These challenges contribute to higher rates of stress, mental illness, and suicide in farm and ranch families.
To help address this mental health crisis, farm advocacy groups have developed resources like the National
Farmers Union's Farm Crisis Center and American Farm Bureau
Federation’s Farm State of Mind website, which features a
directory of rural mental health resources in every U.S. state and Puerto Rico.
These resources provide additional background information on farm-related stress:
- Why Farmers
Face Unique Threats from Stress
Fact sheet explaining the stressors farmers face and related mental health concerns.
Mental Health in Rural
American Farm Bureau Federation, Farm Credit, National Farmers Union
An August 2020 RFD-TV Rural America Live feature episode focused on farm stress and farmer mental health.
- Rural Stress Polling
American Farm Bureau Federation
Findings from a survey of rural adults, farmers, and farmworkers regarding mental health. Discusses stigma,
access to mental health resources, and factors that impact farmers' mental health.
Impacts of COVID-19
on Rural Mental Health
American Farm Bureau Federation
Presentation slides providing findings of a survey of 2,000 rural adults, addressing the perceived
importance of mental health, issues of stigma, impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health, barriers
to care, and other mental health topics.
Understanding Key Stresses in Farming and Ranching
North Dakota State University Extension
Discusses many of the unique stresses that farmers and ranchers experience, explores their impact, and
discusses resources for support.
The Surprising Rate of Farmer Suicide
9-minute video telling the story of a Minnesota farmer who died by suicide. Ted Matthews, a psychologist
specializing in farmer mental health, discusses the rising rates of suicide in the farming community.
Family Stressors: Private Problems, Public Issue
National Council on Family Relations
Describes a variety of key on- and off-farm stressors that impact the mental, physical, and financial health
of farm families. It also discusses some of the ways in which these stressors can affect farming
American Psychological Association
Discusses farmer stress during the COVID-19 pandemic with links to resources on managing stress, seeking
help, and mental health provider resources. Includes a video of a conversation about farmer stress as part
of Farm Aid 2020.
Mental Health Needs in Agricultural Communities
A 2017 Rural Health Research Gateway Rural Health Research Recap, Rural
Behavioral Health, compiles findings from several studies conducted by Federal Office of Rural Health
Policy (FORHP) funded rural health research centers. The publication reports that mental illness is more
prevalent in rural areas than in urban communities. At the same time, there are fewer behavioral health
providers and other services available in rural areas to help people get treatment and support. Without these
resources, people may continue to experience symptoms that affect their relationships,
ability to work, and quality of life. The University of Minnesota Extension offers resources on their Coping with Rural Stress website, including information on
mental health, stress and change, and strategies to help families cope with stress.
There is limited data available that examines rates of mental illnesses in specific occupational groups, like
farmers and ranchers. The National Farmers Union, in the November 2018 article A Deeper Look at the CDC Findings
on Farm Suicides, notes that occupational categories can also be difficult to classify using available
public health data. However, researchers have found that people working in agriculture are at higher risk of
many mental health conditions. Trends and
Characteristics of Occupational Suicide and Homicide in Farmers and Agriculture Workers, 1992-2010, a
2018 Journal of Rural Health article, describes a study that found significantly higher rates of
suicide in farm operators and workers compared to other occupational groups. Furthermore, farming is often
considered to be one of the most stressful occupations and people working in agriculture have high
rates of death from stress-related conditions like heart disease and hypertension, as described in a
presentation by North Dakota State University Extension
Family Life Specialist Sean Brotherson.
Some of the most common mental health conditions include:
is the body's reaction to an event or demand and can be a normal experience. However, extreme stress or
stress that lasts for a long time can have physical, mental, or emotional consequences. Symptoms of
long-term or chronic stress can be different for each person but may include irritability, headaches,
trouble sleeping, heart disease, and diabetes.
Depression is one of the
most common mental illnesses in the U.S. and can interfere with how a person feels and thinks. It can be
linked to genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological causes. Symptoms of depression include
sadness, anxiety, feeling “empty,” irritability, loss of interest in hobbies or activities, and
A person with an anxiety disorder may have panic attacks; extreme or long-lasting episodes of anxiousness
about their health, finances, or required activities; or fears about a specific situation or experience.
Anxiety disorders can interfere with social relationships, make it difficult to
concentrate, or interrupt a person's sleep.
Suicide is one of
the leading causes of death in the U.S., but is preventable. Symptoms of a person who may
be considering suicide include talking about feelings of hopelessness or shame and fears about being a
burden to others. The person may also change their habits, including withdrawing from family and friends, or
using drugs or alcohol more often. The 988 Suicide and Crisis
Lifeline can provide resources for anyone in crisis,
their loved ones. The National Alliance on Mental Illness —
— offers education programs and a helpline offering information and support. For more information on
prevention and data, see the CDC's #BeThere to Help Prevent
There are many other mood disorders and mental health conditions that may affect farm and ranch families,
including bipolar disorder, eating disorders, and schizophrenia. The symptoms of these
conditions vary. Moreover, mental health may not always be an issue affecting suicide risk. According to CDC research, 54%
of people who died by suicide between 1999 and 2016 did not have a known mental health condition, noting that
suicide is rarely attributed to a single factor.
Depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues can be serious diagnoses. Unfortunately, as described by
Ohio State University Extension Educator Jami Dellifield in a July
2017 Successful Farming podcast, mental illness is not a “casserole disease” like other
such as cancer. While a tight-knit rural community may rally around a person who received a cancer diagnosis
offering to cook dinner or help with childcare, providing rides to the clinic, and checking in on
whether he has taken his medication — that support is less often present for a person living with mental
illness. This lack of support can occur because people are not sure how to help or because of lingering stigma
in the community
around mental health issues. Unfortunately, without this support, it can be more difficult for that person to
recover or manage symptoms.
Substance use disorders are not considered a mental health condition, but can often co-occur with mental
illnesses, as reported in the 2018
Journal of Rural Health article mentioned earlier. People may use substances to self-medicate
when they are experiencing a mental health crisis or coping with stress; they may also experience poor mental
health when abusing substances or living with a substance use disorder. According to a 2015 Substance Abuse and
Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) report, Substance Use and
Substance Use Disorder by Industry, alcohol is the most commonly used substance by people working in
agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting occupations. Depression,
Alcohol, and Farm Stress: Addressing Co-Occurring Disorders in Rural America, a 2020 publication of the
Mountain Plains Mental Health Technology Transfer Center Network, offers resources to help rural healthcare
providers screen farmers, farmworkers, and farm families for alcohol use disorder and depression.
Recognizing that the opioid epidemic is increasingly affecting rural communities, the American Farm Bureau
National Farmers Union joined forces to address this public health crisis. Their Farm Town Strong campaign raises awareness about life-saving
prevention and treatment information in order to reduce stigma and influence public opinion about opioid
addiction in rural America.
Barriers and Challenges to Accessing Mental Health Care in Agricultural Communities
Rural residents face significant barriers to seeking mental health treatment, as explained in Barriers to Mental Health Treatment in Rural Areas in the
Mental Health in Rural Communities Toolkit. Farm and ranch families may experience one or more of these
challenges when a loved one is experiencing a mental health crisis or living with a mental health condition. For
information on the impacts of COVID-19 on mental health in rural areas, see this slide deck from a 2020
presentation prepared by the American Farm Bureau Federation.
Barriers can include:
Shortages of mental healthcare providers – Rural and low-income areas have the
shortages of mental healthcare professionals in the country and struggle to recruit providers with
background or fluency in the culture of agriculture. As a result, residents of rural and
agricultural communities may have limited options for providers or may be waitlisted to receive services.
Providers may be located a long distance away, may not accept a person's health insurance, or may be full
and unable to see new patients at their practice. This map
of Mental Health HPSAs (Health Professional Shortage Areas) shows in green the rural areas with
shortages of providers:
- Stigma – People living in rural communities often have less privacy and anonymity
people living in urban communities. As a result, they may feel embarrassed or ashamed to be seen seeking
mental health treatment. Farming culture also often celebrates stoicism and a do-it-yourself mentality,
which can discourage people from asking for help when they are having problems. A 2008 Journal of Rural
Mental Health article, Behavioral
Health Care of the Agricultural Population: A Brief History, provides background information on
cultural, environmental, and economic factors related to agricultural behavioral health.
- Instability at work – Agriculture is unpredictable, and a farmer or rancher's
day-to-day schedule may be very different depending on the immediate needs of the operation. For example,
get sick, or a storm could scramble plans for plowing or applying fertilizer. These demands can make it
difficult for a farmer to make and keep appointments, especially when a counseling or behavioral health
appointment does not feel as urgent as other demands.
- Changes in health insurance coverage – In order to benefit from income-based premium
subsidies that were made available through health insurance reform, farmers need to estimate their income
for the coming year. However, because farm income can be unpredictable from year to year, many farm families
are unable to take advantage of this program. They may also lose their coverage mid-year if their income is
much lower than expected and they are unable to keep up with premium payments. Instead, farmers and their
families are often switching from comprehensive health insurance to more limited plans. While this can help
lower monthly health insurance costs for the family, it may make it more challenging to find a provider that
will accept their health insurance when they need care. It may also mean they have higher deductibles,
which can make care unaffordable.
How Farmer Demographics Impact Stress and Mental Health
The 2017 Census of Agriculture made significant changes to
previous methods in order to capture demographic information about the people who are involved in agricultural
production and farm operations. According to Farm
Producers, a 2019 brief reporting findings from the 2017 Census of Agriculture:
- 95% of U.S. producers are White
- 64% are male
- The average age of producers is 57.5 years old
However, it is important to note that the farming and ranching professions are growing increasingly diverse,
with more women and people of color working in agriculture. See Socially
Disadvantaged, Beginning, Limited Resource, and Female Farmers and Ranchers from the USDA Economic
Research Service (ERS) for details.
Farmers and ranchers experience a variety of challenges and may be receptive to help in many
different ways. While everyone can experience a mental health condition, there are some
populations that may be experiencing unique stressors.
The average age of farmers continues to rise, as reported in Farm
Producers. According to the National Center for Health Statistics report Health,
United States, 2017 (Table
39), older people are more likely to have one or more chronic health
conditions like heart disease or diabetes. Living with a chronic condition is a risk factor for
mental illnesses like depression, according to the National Institute of Mental Health fact
Illness & Mental Health.
According to the ERS report America's
Diverse Family Farms, 2021 edition, 89% of farms are considered small,
meaning their gross cash farm income is less than $350,000 per year. Depending on the type of
farm, 57% to 83% of small family farms operate at a high-risk level in terms of operating
margin, nearly double that of large family farms, and nearly 40% of midsize family farms operate at a high-risk
level. In 2020, 53% of small family farms and 52% of all family farms had at least one household member work off
the farm in another occupation, which may happen when the farm income is not stable or sufficient to support the
operator and his or her family. Additionally, COVID-19-related disruptions caused 11% of all farm households to
experience off-farm job loss, with 12% of small family farms affected.
a Future with Farmers: Results and Recommendations from the National Young Farmer Survey
reports that young farmers face additional financial pressures, including
student loan debt and record high prices for farmland, which may be less significant for older
and more established farmers who already have some assets. Young farmers also report high rates
of concern about access to health insurance and health care.
Root Causes of Farm Stress
Many rural communities have a variety of attributes that affect mental health, as outlined in
Factors That Impact Mental Health in Rural
Areas in the Mental Health in Rural Communities Toolkit. For those with tight-knit
families and communities, those relationships can be protective against poor mental health outcomes. On the
other hand, risk factors for poor mental health that can be prevalent in rural areas and
agricultural communities include:
- Social isolation
- Advanced age
- Higher rates of chronic medical conditions
Families who work in agriculture are tightly linked to their land and are therefore impacted by the
environmental and financial systems
that support their livelihood. Changes in those systems can have significant effects on mental health. Because
the identities and lives of farm and ranch families are so closely tied to their occupation, they may also
experience a variety of unique pressures that can increase their risk for poor mental health or mental illness.
The North Dakota State University Extension video Understanding Key
Stresses in Farming and Ranching highlights these concerns.
Commodity crops, including cotton, milk, wheat, corn, soybeans, and rice, are agricultural
products whose price is regulated by the government.
Commodity prices are often unpredictable, which can make it difficult for farmers to plan ahead.
Prices may change based on the global supply of a crop, demand, trade patterns, and other
large-scale economic trends. In recent years, prices for some commodities have fallen
significantly, as shown in commodity
price graphs developed by the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service. The ERS
Diverse Family Farms, 2018 edition reports that net farm income declined almost 40%
between 2013 and
2017. Additionally, livestock farmers and ranchers experience similar volatility and little safety from
Other Financial Stressors
Farm financial challenges are often deeply linked to family finances, which can mean that a cash
flow problem with the business will also spill over into the family budget. In addition to
concerns about crop prices, farmers may have to contend with machinery breaking down and other
financial risks. As mentioned earlier, unpredictable year-to-year incomes make it difficult for
farm families to afford health insurance and they may choose plans that offer only limited
benefits. This could in turn put the family at risk of an unexpected medical expense that may
strain their budget.
The business of farming often requires taking on significant amounts of debt in order to
purchase land, machinery, or livestock. Many farms operate on a revolving line of credit,
called a farm
operating loan, which is used each year to purchase needed materials, such as seed and
pesticide. The farm uses its earnings after the product sells to pay back the loan. However,
according the ERS website section Assets,
Debt, and Wealth, the debt-to-asset ratio for American farms has risen in recent years
and is projected to continue to rise. This means these farms are at an increased risk of
insolvency — in other words, as the debt-to-asset ratio rises, farms are more likely to go
Extreme weather, including droughts, floods, and unexpected freezes, can destroy crops, injure
or kill livestock, and damage stored products that are waiting to be sold. If the farm property
is hit by an extreme weather event like a tornado or flood, the family's home or equipment may
also be damaged. Unfortunately, these events are unpredictable and farmers and ranchers
may have limited ability or time to prevent some of the worst effects. For example, as reported
in the March 2019 NPR article Nebraska
Faces Over $1.3 Billion In Flood Losses, the historic flooding in March 2019 that hit
Nebraska and Iowa was estimated to cause over $1 billion in damages to infrastructure, crop, and
cattle losses. In 2021, a historic drought placed even more pressure on agricultural producers in the Northern
Plains and Western states.
Long Hours or Fatigue
Farming and ranching can be physically and mentally demanding work. During the busiest seasons
or during a crisis, it can also include very long hours, resulting in fatigue. Operating
machinery while sleep-deprived can increase risk of injury, and fatigue can be related to
symptoms of stress and depression. As explained in the 2017 Current Opinion in Behavioral
Sciences article Stress
and Decision Making: Effects on Valuation, Learning, and Risk-taking, people are also
more likely to make poor decisions while stressed, which can lead to additional problems in the
Many farms and ranches are geographically isolated, and in small operations, a farmer may only
have one or two employees. These factors can lead to social isolation, which is associated with
poor mental and physical health outcomes, as discussed in the July 2018 Bipartisan Policy Center
Aging: Health and Community Policy Implications for Reversing Social Isolation. Conflict
with family or employees can also be a source of stress. Marital stress can also impact farm operations and
contribute to overall mental health issues for farm families. For smaller farms, these groups may
overlap, which can make it hard to set work or family problems aside and focus on other tasks.
Many farmers and ranchers deeply hold their occupation as a core part of their personal
identity. As described in the Journal of Rural Mental Health article
Health Care of the Agricultural Population: A Brief History, this can include a strong
relationship with their land, which may have been passed down for generations in their families.
Even when facing significant obstacles, they may feel a “generational obligation” to
the farm. If the farm fails and the family must move on to other places or jobs, the loss of
this part of their identity — and the feeling of both personal and financial failure
Developing Programs to Address Farmer Mental Health
Rural communities seeking to help farmers may choose to develop a program focused on farmer mental health. There
are a wide range of tools and examples to build on.
These toolkits offer a full range of considerations for developing rural community health
Community Health Toolkit
Start here for a guide to building rural community health programs to address any type of health
issue. Learn how to identify community needs, find evidence-based models, plan and implement
your program, evaluate results, and much more.
Mental Health in Rural Communities Toolkit
This step-by-step guide to developing rural mental health programs, with a focus on adult mental
health, provides guidance and resources that can be used to develop mental health programs
focused on farmers and farm families.
This guide focuses on developing and implementing rural suicide prevention programs using a
range of evidence-based and promising models. It highlights the suicide risk factors in rural
communities, including those faced by rural farmers.
Implementation Considerations for Communities Developing Programs to Address Farmers' Mental Health
Organizations interested in implementing programs to address farmers' mental health needs may
want to consider some of the unique experiences and characteristics of farming and ranching
Engaging Community Stakeholders
Family members, especially spouses and children, are key contact points in the
farm and ranch community. Farmers' family members may be more likely to notice a farmer who is
struggling. They can also be in a position to encourage their family members to seek help.
Community organizations like churches or fraternal groups can offer educational programs to inform these
families about the signs and
symptoms of a mental health issue and how to connect their loved ones with key resources. In
addition, there are a variety of community members who may be key parts of a farmer's support
Interventions and conversations with traditional mental health stakeholders, like mental health
clinicians or school guidance counselors, can be beneficial in every community. However, farming
and ranching communities can also benefit from conversations with a wide range of
stakeholders. These stakeholders may be able to identify and reach individuals who
would otherwise not be able to seek help or access care for a mental health issue. Key people to
consider are those who frequently interact with the farm and ranch community. These people can
- Clergy and members of faith-based communities
- Insurance agents
- Financial lenders
- Feed store workers
- Beauty shop/barber shop employees
- Milk haulers
- Local school teachers and principals
- Community colleges
- State agricultural finance counselors
- Farm Service Agency employees
- Cooperative extension offices
- Local affiliates of commodity or industry groups including the United
Soybean Board, National Pork Producers, the Corn Growers Association, the American Farm
Bureau Federation, or National Farmers Union
Most farmers and ranchers already have established relationships with organizations or
individuals in their community who serve as trusted resources for both personal and
professional needs. For example, a family may have a long-standing relationship
with their local veterinarian or their barber. These individuals, then, may be more likely to identify
a farmer who is struggling. The farmer, in turn, might be more comfortable talking about their
concerns or stress levels with people with whom they have already established trust.
One way these stakeholders can successfully connect with farmers and ranchers is to
focus the conversations around profession-specific stressors. For example,
farmers may be more open to talking about stress due to falling commodity prices with a fellow farm professional
rather than with a mental health worker who could be perceived to be less aware of
the unique issues that farmers face.
Similarly, programs can address farmer mental health by providing training to
stakeholders who frequently have stressful conversations with this community. For
example, lenders or insurance agents may sometimes need to have hard conversations with farmers
about their loans or financial status. Training can help these professionals be prepared to
work with someone who may have an emotional reaction to difficult news. Additionally, programs
can provide materials about local mental health resources to offices where these difficult and
stress-inducing conversations occur.
Finally, trusted community members who work outside the farming profession (including faith
leaders, barber shops, school teachers and principals, law enforcement, and others) may be
open to learning how to support farmers’ mental health.
Breakfast learning groups, in which a group of various stakeholders come
together for one or two mornings to discuss this topic, is one way to reach people who could
identify a farmer in distress and offer referrals or other sources of help.
Reaching Farmers and Ranchers Where They Are
In addition to engaging a wide variety of stakeholders, there are multiple communication methods
that a program can implement to reach farmers and ranchers.
Creating a meeting dedicated to mental health will likely not result in high attendance
rates because of farmers' busy schedules and the stigma associated with mental health. However,
programs can consider incorporating mental health information into existing local
programming in the farm and ranch communities. For example, a seed dealer or co-op
meeting could be a venue through which a program already has the attention of the target
audience. During one of these already scheduled meetings, a program could invite a speaker to talk about stress,
mental health, and well-being, and provide educational materials and a list of local mental health resources.
For privacy reasons, these materials should be either included in a packet that every attendee receives or
placed in an area where they could be picked up out of sight of others. Meeting leaders can also welcome
participants to take copies of the materials to give to someone they may know who could use them.
Different forms of technology can present opportunities for reaching this group. Although the
farm and ranch community has a higher average age than the general population, they are often
very technologically-savvy. As a result, a telehealth approach may be an
effective way to reach people who are otherwise unable to access mental health services.
Other options for reaching farm and ranch families can include publishing mental health
information and resources in local newspapers, newsletters, and popular farming
magazines and advertising on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media.
In many parts of the country, breakfast clubs or coffee clubs are key social
opportunities for farmers and their neighbors, who might meet once a week or once a month, to
socialize and have breakfast in a local restaurant. These meals may also be key opportunities
for a trusted member of the community — a healthcare provider or a member of the clergy
— to come and speak briefly to the group about mental health and offer information about
Recognizing and Reducing Stigma
The stigma associated with mental health services often acts as a barrier to accessing mental
healthcare. This issue is particularly relevant for farmers and ranchers because of the small
rural communities in which they live. Sometimes, farmers and ranchers do not want to be seen
walking into a mental health services building.
One way to alleviate concerns about stigma is by integrating mental health
services into already existing services. For example, co-locating or integrating
mental health services into primary care services will allow individuals to go to their regular
clinic and access mental health services without fear of others knowing. Similarly, when
possible, mental health services can be provided discreetly. For example, a crisis response team
arriving at a farmer or rancher's operation can drive an unmarked vehicle and wear clothing similar to local
Programs can also work to reduce the stigma associated with mental health issues. Having a
popular celebrity figure talk about mental health or make a public service
announcement could help farmers and ranchers see that many people are facing stressful times. In
New Zealand, the Farmstrong program created a video about
mental health featuring a famous rugby player whose family had a farming background. Having a
respected athlete serve as an ambassador both legitimized the program and encouraged farmers and
ranchers to improve their own mental health and well-being.
Finally, families can reduce the stigma around mental health by talking about their own
difficult and stressful experiences on the farm. For example, grandparents who
worked through the farm crisis in the 1980s can share their stories with their grandchildren to
help current farmers and ranchers realize that they are not alone during this stressful time,
and validate their experiences and emotions.
Framing Mental Healthcare and Mental Health Issues Differently
Access to all types of medical care can be challenging in rural areas, where people may live far
away from clinical resources or treatment. While families may be willing to travel long distances for medical
care, behavioral health or mental health services may not feel as urgent. Programs can work to change farmers'
and ranchers' mindset around mental health by framing mental health concerns in relatable ways. One way to do
this is by stressing the fact that a farmer or rancher is the most important part of their farming operation,
not just as labor but as a key management tool, and that if their physical or mental health prevents them from
working, they cannot be replaced as can a piece of equipment.
In order to avoid some of the stigma associated with terms like “mental health” or “behavioral
health,” programs can consider using more accessible language like “wellness”
and “stress,” depending on what terms are relatable to their local farm families.
the business of farming relies heavily on science, and farmers will likely appreciate
information that is evidence-based. Programs may consider framing these issues around the
science of well-being. Farmers are always striving to be better farmers. By informing them of
the research behind well-being and the negative consequences of ignoring your well-being, a
program can show farmers that caring about their well-being will in fact make them a better
When farmers are experiencing significant stress or another mental health issue, they can be
tired and distracted, which can lead to more frequent accidents. As farmers know, accidents on
the job may negatively affect their profit and productivity and may put others at risk.
Framing mental health in a relatable way is a key component of any program for farmers and
ranchers. Using analogies and metaphors that are relevant to a farmer's
lifestyle or daily demands can help get their attention and encourage them to consider the
importance of addressing their mental health. For example, messages can note that farmers have a
responsibility to maintain their mental health just like they have the responsibility to
maintain their tractors and pumps to make sure their farm is in working order. Additionally,
farmers typically have a list of assets associated with their farm, such as
land, machinery, and fertilizer, which are necessary in order to be productive and successful.
The health of people working on the farm, including the farm owners themselves, should be on the
asset list so that it is built into their farm management approach. Good stress management is
good farm management.
While it is important to highlight the negative consequence of not addressing mental health needs, programs
should ultimately strive to empower farmers and ranchers, not scare them. Empowerment training
includes incorporating resiliency thinking, rather than problem solving thinking, into educational materials or
presentations and even using humor to help reduce any stigma or embarrassment farmers and ranchers may feel
about the topic.
Understanding the Farming/Ranching Perspective
A program must also take into consideration the unique lifestyle of farmers and ranchers. Most notably, farmers
ranchers have a
strong sense of pride associated with their farming operation. This pride often
creates an assumption that they do not need any help and should be “tough” when faced with
issue, rather than turning to others for assistance. Farmers often do not like to ask their
neighbors for help because they do not want to feel like a burden on their community members;
however, finding out that they are not alone can provide reassurance.
Similarly, farmers and ranchers consider the farm part of their identity. This idea can be seen
in the principle of the Agrarian Imperative, as described in a 2010
Journal of Agromedicine article of the same name, in which farmers and ranchers
often feel deeply compelled to maintain their farm and the farming way of life. As mentioned earlier,
some farmers may also feel bound to their farm by their family's longstanding history with that
farm across generations. They remain dedicated to try to preserve it for themselves and their
children, even if it means their mental health suffers. This generational commitment to
farming can also create barriers with healthcare providers who do not understand
the mentality of farmers and ranchers.
As technology has improved, farming communities have changed. Farming does not require as much manual labor as
it did in previous generations, when neighbors might take turns pitching in on one another's farms to tackle and
accomplish tasks quickly. Moreover, there are overall fewer farmers working in agriculture, and many also work
off the farm and are less available to help one another. Current generations of farmers now have more alone time
and some of the community aspects of farming are lost.
Because of these changes, it is important that the broader community rise up, support their local
farmers, and let them know that the community values them. One low-resource way to show
community support for farmers is to make yard signs with creative or upbeat
messages that can be distributed in the local community. For example, these signs could say,
“We love our farmers!” or “Buy local!”
Finally, one way to ensure a program will adequately help a farm and ranch audience is to find a
partner organization that understands farming and the specific mental health
needs of farmers. These efforts could include talking to membership organizations like the dairy
association or honey producers. Farmers and ranchers will likely respond better to mental health
outreach if they feel that the message is coming from someone who speaks their language. This
concept of finding a culturally competent provider is particularly important in the case of
telemedicine because the farmer or rancher needs to feel like they are talking to someone who
understands their struggles, and not someone sitting in an office in an urban community hundreds
of miles away.
In recent years, many organizations have developed and implemented programs that address mental
health needs among farm and ranch families. These programs can provide promising and practical
examples of what can work for agricultural communities trying to address this serious and timely
This section describes several types of programs that successfully addressed mental health needs
in their communities. Some of these programs have also been evaluated to understand their
effectiveness and return on investment. Organizations that are interested in developing a
similar program can and should consider their own community's strengths and needs to ensure it
is a good fit, which will lead to better long-term outcomes. These examples can serve as
inspiration for other rural communities:
A May 2019 Rural Monitor article, Preventing
Farmer Suicides through Helplines and Farm Visits, highlights the work of two
- Minnesota Farm & Rural Helpline (833.600.2670) connects
farmers and farm families to counselors, help with daily living (like childcare or
food assistance), and financial/legal advice and is available 24/7 by phone, text, or email.
- NY FarmNet offers a helpline as well as
free, confidential, on-the-farm consultations.
Hotlines and Mental Health
Provide Needed Support, a May 2014 Rural Monitor article, features another
helpline for farmers:
- The Nebraska
Rural Response Hotline, in operation since the 1980s through the support of
Interchurch Ministries of Nebraska, offers farmers referrals for free stress
counseling or legal advice.
Farm First uses an approach modeled on employee assistance programs offered in the
workplace. Farm owners and family members can receive information, brief counseling, and
- The Farm
Aid hotline provides confidential assistance for farmers experiencing distress or in
crisis at 1-800-FARM-AID (327-6243) or by filling out an online request for assistance. The
hotline is answered between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Eastern time by Farm Aid staff.
American Farm Bureau Federation’s Farm State of Mind
contact information for helplines and counseling services, searchable by state and category.
Many farmers are fiercely independent and reluctant to ask for help. Often, they may not wish to
discuss their problems or worries with their neighbors and friends to avoid being a
For a farmer who is struggling or experiencing significant challenges, that may mean they
ultimately withdraw from their social relationships and become increasingly isolated. However,
understanding that other people are experiencing similar difficulties can increase their feeling
of connectedness and encourage them to seek help, if they need it.
Other farmers are often an excellent and trusted resource to share messages about mental health
and wellness. Because of their shared experiences, they can speak to the unique perspective,
lifestyle, and attitudes of farm families.
Examples of programs that use peer-to-peer learning include:
- The Minnesota
Farm Advocate program, supported by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, offers
free counseling and support for financial planning, lender negotiations, applications and
appeals to farm programs, and referrals to legal, social, and human services. Farm Advocates
are retired farmers who can provide a neutral support system for current farmers who are
experiencing a financial or business crisis and the stress that often comes with these
Farm Dinner Theater is a program started in Kentucky to bring together senior farmers in
rural communities to talk about difficult topics, including farm safety, health, and
well-being. A local planning committee offers suggestions of relevant topics for each event.
These real-life farm experiences are then turned into humorous plays and farmers are
recruited to be readers on stage. Between each play, a nurse facilitator leads a group
discussion to identify possible solutions for the problems portrayed in the play. Research
has found that participants share their new knowledge with non-participants and increase
their activities around health and safety following the event. For more information on the Farm Dinner
Theater, see the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service's Farmers Dinner Theater Toolkit and our Models and Innovations feature on the program.
Many farmers and ranchers use social media to connect with organizations and get local news.
Organizations can use social media campaigns on Facebook or other platforms to share
farmers' stories and encourage others to get help. For example, this Suicide
Prevention Coalition of Iowa County, WI public service announcement was filmed on a
family farm and shared on Facebook.
Men's Shed is a member organization that addresses social isolation
for older men by creating spaces for connection, peer support, and engagement in service activities.
Reaching Farmers through Ag-Related Programs and Organizations
Farmers and ranchers are busy, and their days can be unpredictable — a piece of equipment
might unexpectedly malfunction, or livestock may get loose. This can make it difficult to make
and keep regular appointments for counseling or other mental health treatment services.
There is also still significant stigma around mental illness and mental health issues in
American culture, which is prevalent in many agricultural communities. As a result, farmers may
be reluctant to seek out information or services for depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, or
other mental health issues.
Because of these barriers, some programs have found success by delivering mental health messages
or services to farmers in non-traditional ways. This can include integrating information about
mental health resources into existing programming or identifying key stakeholders that can reach
farmers outside their medical or clinical relationships.
Example programs that use non-traditional vehicles for mental health and wellness messages
Meetings and crop fairs – Commodity groups (like the Soybean Council
Corn Growers Association) can be key partners. Many farmers and ranchers are members of the
local affiliate and will attend regular meetings or crop fairs to discuss new techniques or
industry news. Because farmers are already gathered in one place and ready to learn, these
meetings provide a good opportunity to distribute educational materials or bring in a guest
speaker to discuss mental health and wellness.
Potentially stressful locations – Some events or locations may be a
of significant stress for farmers and ranchers. For example, as farms go bankrupt and
farmers have to sell their assets, a sale barn or farm auction where other farmers are gathered may be a
good venue for a mental health professional to be present or for a program to distribute
information and resources for farmers in crisis.
Public service announcements – Commodity groups or other professional
organizations may not have the staff resources to dedicate to an in-house mental health
program, but they may still be interested in the topic area and in opportunities to partner
with or support programs that are working with their constituents. For example, North Dakota
State University Extension partnered with the North Dakota Bankers' Association to develop
public service announcements about
farm stress and mental
health. These ads were shown during the broadcast of the state basketball
tournament, which is watched by many people in rural North Dakota.
Podcasts – During some times of the year, farmers and ranchers may
hours per day in their tractor. In addition to listening to the radio, podcasts are another
frequently consumed media source. TransFARMation
is a podcast produced by the Red River Farm Network and the Minnesota Department of
Agriculture that features farmers and ranchers speaking directly to their audience about farm stress through
personal stories and conversations with experts. It also offers information about local resources for
Veterinarians are often highly trusted partners and are sometimes one of
the few people a farmer sees regularly, especially during busy seasons. A veterinarian may
also be at the farm during very stressful times, including when livestock are sick. Because
of this relationship, a vet could be a good partner for a mental health professional or
other provider who is interested in providing services directly onsite for farm and ranch
families. By traveling around with the veterinarian, the mental health professional will be
able to reach a farmer who is otherwise rarely able to access mental health services.
Social media – The U.S. Ag Centers Mental Health Awareness Campaign
Toolkit provides organizations with social media materials for a five-week campaign
to address the mental health of farmers. Resources include: messages for Twitter and
Facebook, hashtags, promotional images, and relevant organizations to tag and follow.
Websites – Farm State of Mind is a website
created by the American Farm Bureau Federation that offers a nationwide resource directory and information
resources that support mental health for individuals working in agriculture. They also offer rural
Online and Phone-based Counseling
Access to mental healthcare services can be very challenging for farmers and ranchers. There may
not be a provider available locally, or the clinic may not be accepting new patients. Many farm
families have limited insurance coverage, which could be another barrier to accessing care.
In addition to problems accessing care, farmers are often reluctant to visit a mental health
clinic to receive services because they are concerned about privacy. In a small town, passersby
might recognize their vehicle in the clinic parking lot.
Examples of programs that deliver mental health care services remotely include:
- Internet-based programs can reach people who are very remote and may
otherwise be unable to access care. The only requirement is that the person have an
available internet connection. For example, Thrive offers online,
Computer-administered Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CCBT) to treat depression for people who
may not have access to a mental health care provider. This project uses an online system to
deliver the intervention, and was adapted by a team of researchers at Montana State
University to better fit the needs and experiences of rural communities. It is currently
being evaluated using a randomized-control trial.
- Phone counseling – The Minnesota Department of Agriculture supports the services of
two mental health therapists, Ted
Matthews and Monica McConkey, who provide services to farmers and farm families anywhere in the
state at no cost, either on the farm via Zoom or at a private, off-farm location that is agreeable to the
client. They help with depression, anxiety, problem solving, stress management, relationship issues, and
other challenges. Learn more in the May 2019 Rural Monitor article Preventing Farmer
Suicides through Helplines and Farm
Engaging the Whole Community
Farmers have relationships with many types of professionals with whom they interact regularly,
including bankers, lenders, feed store owners, and veterinarians. Sometimes these professionals
have to give a farmer bad news themselves, or they may see farmers who are struggling and can
offer a referral to mental health or crisis counseling services.
Examples of programs that partner with these stakeholders include:
Farm Credit, the American Farm Bureau Federation,
and National Farmers Union developed a free online course, Rural Resilience:
Farm Stress Training, for groups and individuals that work with farmers and
ranchers. Based on the farm stress program that the Michigan State University Extension developed for the
USDA’s Farm Service Agency, the course covers the signs and symptoms of stress and suicide, ways to
effectively communicate with people under stress, and how to reduce stigma related to mental
The American Psychological Association (APA) partnered with agricultural advocacy groups and federal
agencies to create Farmer Stress, which offers
resources and support for farm community mental health. These resources include information on managing
stress, seeking help, and training materials for mental health providers.
The North Central Regional Center for Rural Development has partnered with the USDA Farm
Service Agency to develop a program
to help Farm Service Agency employees identify signs and symptoms of farmers who are
experiencing distress or a mental health crisis. This training was also designed to teach
employees how to communicate with farmers in distress, since they may be delivering
Similar to CPR training, Mental Health First
Aid is a program that offers training to laypersons on how to respond when they
witness a person in a mental health crisis. Instructors are generally also community members
(for example, extension agents) who train members of the public to build community capacity.
The curriculum includes an optional rural supplement which provides additional information
about rural characteristics and assets for discussion during the course.
The CDC's Preventing Suicide: A
Technical Package of Policy, Programs, and Practices offers strategies to prevent suicide at the
community level, including strategies to create protective environments, promote connectedness, and identify
and support people at risk.
Down on the Farm: Supporting Farmers in
Stressful Times is a 3-hour workshop created by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and
partners. It teaches people who live and work in agricultural communities how to recognize and respond when
they suspect a farmer or farm family member might need help. It can be offered in-person or online. A free
workshop toolkit is available for download, consisting of a PowerPoint
slide set and a Facilitator Guide. The MDA encourages users to adapt and modify the
materials for their own region and audiences.
Farmstrong is a program in New Zealand that brings
together a variety of stakeholders who are invested in improving farmer well-being. Rather
than focusing only on crisis response, they are interested in promoting the science of
well-being with the slogan “Live well to farm well.” Their activities focus on stress,
healthy sleep, physical activity, mental health, and seeking help. In addition to producing
informational materials and videos, Farmstrong also hosts social events and other activities
to improve social connectedness and share messages about well-being in a positive, fun
Tools and Materials for Farmers' Mental Health Programs
Many organizations have developed adaptable tools and materials that could be used in programs
to address mental health needs among farm and ranch families. These tools can be incorporated in
a comprehensive farmer mental health program or used independently to check on farmer mental
health and well-being.
Tools to Recognize Stress and Mental Health Concerns
and Ranch Family Stress and Depression: A Checklist and Guide for Making
Colorado State University Extension
A resource for community members, including clergy, veterinarians, and school personnel, who
regularly interact with farm families who may be experiencing stress. Lists signs and
symptoms of stress, depression, and suicidal intent. Provides information on how to refer
someone for help if they seem to be experiencing any of these symptoms.
- Ag Health Risk Assessment
Web-based self-assessment for farmers, ranchers, and their families. Considers physical and
mental health state and identifies preventive steps that could help reduce the risk for poor
health outcomes. Results can be shared with a healthcare provider to start a conversation
about mental or physical health needs. Includes a version specific to women.
Agricultural Producers & Stress: When do
You Need a Counselor?
University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension
Provides practical tips for farmers who may be considering whether and how to seek help from
a counselor. Describes some of the common reasons why people may be reluctant to see a mental health
professional, and offers ideas about how to find a counselor who is a good fit.
Farm Safety Check: Stress and
Upper Midwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center (UMASH)
Provides information for farmers and their employees on the behavioral and physical signs of stress
and how to respond. (Also available in poster format: Signs
and Symptoms of Stress)
Health and the Impact on Wellness for Farm Families
Handout for farmers and their families covering symptoms of poor mental health. Includes a
two-question self-assessment tool. People who respond positively are encouraged to seek help
from a healthcare provider. Defines common mental health conditions and identifies
potentially stressful events for this population.
Posters, Handouts, and Flyers
Presentations, Webinars, and Podcasts
Webinars for Women in Agriculture
University of Minnesota Extension-Women in Ag Network and the Upper
Midwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center (UMASH)
A webinar series for women who live and/or work on a farm. Focuses on reducing stress,
maintaining relationships, self-care, support systems, and increasing joy and happiness.
Dairy Girl Enhance
Dairy Girl Network
Your Mind and Body: Manage Stress for Better Health Lesson Guide
North Dakota State University Extension Service
A slide presentation, including talking points, for a stress management class targeted to
adults aged 50 years and older. Part of the curriculum is a Personal
Action Plan that participants can use to think about and record ways to reduce and
manage stress in their lives.
Podcast Episode 17: Identifying and Assessing Suicide Risks with Jami Dellifield
A podcast, sponsored by Successful Farming, discussing how to break down stigma
regarding mental health in the farming community. Includes an interview with an educator who
talks about identifying risk factors and seeking help for a mental health crisis.
Minnesota Department of Agriculture and Red River Farm
A radio and podcast series featuring farmers. It increases awareness and reduce stigma about various
in farming and ranching life that can impact the mental health of producers and their
Wellness in Tough
A recorded webinar focused on the daily stresses of life for farmers and ranchers, coping
strategies for dealing with stress, and how to help others.
Managing Stress During Drought
A webinar discussing farm stress management that was recorded during the 2021 drought, including a
conversation between North Dakota State University Extension staff and farm stress experts.
Resources for Specific Populations
a Future with Farmers: Results and Recommendations from the National Young Farmer
National Young Farmers Coalition
Describes the results of the National Young Farmer Survey, and describes many of the
challenges that are particularly relevant in young farm families, including business
planning, access to affordable health care, and land access. It also discusses relevant
federal resources for this population.
Farm Stress and
A wide range of resources to help farmers with disabilities address mental health concerns.
Includes videos and recorded webinars, resources for specific mental health issues, and
Stress Management for Women Farmers &
University of California
Describes the additional stressors women farmers and ranchers often face related to their
role in the farming operation, the integration of home and work, the physical stress, and
the stereotypes that make it difficult to receive equitable treatment. Identifies a number
of constructive coping techniques.
Key Stakeholder Organizations
This section outlines key federal agencies, federally-funded organizations, and national membership
organizations working on mental health issues in agriculture communities. These agencies and organizations
provide resources, education, training, grants, and other funding opportunities to rural communities interested
in developing or maintaining a mental health program targeted to farm and ranch families.
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Agricultural Mediation Program funds agricultural mediation programs to help resolve financial disputes
in nearly every state. The USDA Farm and Ranch Stress
Assistance Network (FRSAN) connects agricultural professionals to stress assistance programs through
four regional programs.
USDA Cooperative Extension
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Cooperative
Extension System supports farmers and many state extension programs have developed resources to address
farmers' mental health concerns, including the factors that cause stress. The Land-Grant
University Website Directory identifies extension offices and other colleges and universities that help
USDA address issues relevant to agriculture and rural communities.
Some examples of extension-sponsored resources include:
and Health: Managing Stress, North Dakota State University Extension
& Farm Vitality, University of Delaware Cooperative Extension and University of Maryland
Helping Farmers Cope with
Stress, University of Maine Cooperative Extension
Managing Stress During Tough
Times, Colorado State University Extension
The Personal Nature of Agriculture: Men Seeking
Help, University of Wyoming Cooperative Extension Service
Production Agriculture and
Stress, Farm & Ranch eXtension in Safety and Health (FReSH) Community of Practice
Resilient Farms, Families, Businesses & Communities:
Responding to Stress, University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension
Resilient Minds: Managing Stress on
the Farm and Resilient
Farms: Financial and Management Guides, Michigan State University Extension
Ag Safety Centers
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
Ag Safety Centers focus on the health and safety of agricultural workers, including mental health
issues. Several of these centers have developed materials and resources targeted to addressing farmers' mental
Some examples of Ag Safety Center resources include:
State agencies and departments that serve farmers may offer resources. For example:
- Stress & Crisis: Get Help
Minnesota Department of Agriculture
Describes some of the resources that the state makes available to farmers in crisis. These include a
confidential, 24/7 Minnesota-based
farm helpline, a rural mental health counselor, mobile crisis teams, and links to other phone or
See the National Association of State Departments of
Agriculture (NASDA) State Directory for contact information and website links for each state.
National and State Farm-Related Organizations
A wide variety of farm-related organizations are developing resources to help farm families:
Farm Crisis Center
National Farmers Union
Identifies national and local resources for farmers, including information on mediation and natural disaster
Aid Resource Guide for Farm Crisis Support
Identifies resources related to disaster response, legal needs, mental health, and more.
Farmer Resource Network Online Directory
Directory of over 750 organizations that help farmers with crisis assistance, legal help, financial
counseling, and more.
Farm State of Mind
American Farm Bureau Federation
Discusses the unique stressors associated with farming, warning signs of stress, steps to help someone at
risk, and additional resources for individuals experiencing stress. This site also features a directory of
rural mental health resources in every U.S. state and Puerto Rico.
Farm Town Strong
American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Farmers Union
An initiative that provides resources about the opioid epidemic to farm families in need.
Iowa Corn Growers Association
Provides stress management resources for farmers in Iowa including links to the Iowa Concern Hotline, the
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, Agrisafe Clinic Network, and Psychology Today.
Mental Health Resources for Farmers and Ranchers
A collection of articles focused on mental health, stress, depression, and suicide.