Under Pressure

Recognize the signs and learn to communicate with farmers dealing with today's stresses.

Russ Quinn
By  Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
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At a University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension meeting about farm stress, attendees break into small-group discussion about how stress affects them individually. (Progressive Farmer image by Russ Quinn)

Many farmers face some sort of financial distress because of a mixture of tight profit margins and uncooperative weather. Learning the signs of stress and talking with farmers who may not be coping with stress effectively are important skills to possess, experts agree.

In a presentation titled "Communicating With Farmers Under Stress" in July, University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) Extension educators tried to bring awareness to the stressful conditions farmers are under, as well as teach techniques for dealing with people under stress. Attendees also learned where to go for additional help for those struggling with mental health.

UNL Extension educator Susan Harris-Broomfield, whose work is on rural health, wellness and safety out of Minden, Nebraska, says stress affects the human body, and chronic stress has a long-term negative impact.

Harris-Broomfield says signs of stress can come in many forms. Common signs of chronic, prolonged stress in farmers could be a change in routine, the care of livestock declines, increase in illnesses, increase in farm accidents and the appearance of the farmstead declines.


Harris-Broomfield says steps to handling stress include deep-breathing; positive self-talk to build up your confidence; meditating; correct levels of exercise, food and sleep; connecting with people in a social setting; and even speaking with a mental health professional.

She explains the UNL presentation utilizes information from a program originally put together by Michigan State University. With the increasing amount of stress in agriculture, especially after the widespread March flooding hit Nebraska, UNL Extension decided to have a series of workshops across the state, she says.

When approaching a person under stress, there are four main steps to follow, explains UNL Extension educator Jean Ann Fischer, based in Lincoln. These are preparing for a discussion, active listening, what to do or don't do, and preparing an action plan.

Fischer says thinking and planning ahead can help in these often heavy discussions. You should have the proper mindset when having these discussions, including feeling empathy -- not sympathy -- toward the person and that person's situation. Active listening requires several steps. The person listening will need to ask, probe, attend, restate, paraphrase, summarize and refrain in this process, she says.

Regarding what to do and not do, Fischer says people in contact with farmers should follow up with the person even if they didn't tell the person they were going to do so.


Fischer reports warning signs of suicide could include writing or talking about suicide, feeling hopeless, giving away prized processions, making a plan, saying goodbyes or apologizing, isolation from others, loss of interest and mood changes.

Fischer says preparing an action plan would be appropriate if the person is suicidal. The correct question to ask is, "Are you having thoughts of suicide?" in a calm, low voice free of judgment. If the person says yes to the question, do not leave that person alone. Call for help and/or take the person to a hospital or health-care provider.

Sometimes, there are no signs of suicide beforehand. Survivors should never feel guilty for possibly missing the signs, because sometimes there are not any, Fischer says.

In Nebraska, Bryan Medical Center helped develop the state's first Local Outreach to Suicide Survivors (LOSS) team in Lincoln in 2009. This volunteer group provides support to individuals as soon as possible after the death of a loved one to suicide.


> Bryan Medical Center LOSS: www.nelossteam.nebraska.edu

> National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255); suicidepreventionlifeline.org


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