Mental Health in Rural America: A Documentary

By Sarah Hunt, AZFB Communications Intern


Maintaining good mental health is an essential need in all of our lives. RFD-TV and the American Farm Bureau recognized this need in the population of rural America and came together to create a documentary, titled “Mental Health in Rural America”. It aired live on RFD-TV and is also recorded on YouTube here to view at any time.

The Arizona Farm Bureau has covered this topic as well in their article, “Tamping Down the Stress Level on the Farm”. Below are some highlights from the article that give great insight on how to recognize and help alleviate signs of stress or mental illness in co-workers, friends, and family members.


Tell-Tale Signs of a Mental Health Crisis

Ruth Tutor-Marcom, with North Carolina Agromedicine Institute, advises that clear signals can be identified. “Communication is not weakness,” says Tutor-Marcom. She gives a list of signals.


  • The decline in care of crops, animals, and farm
  • Deterioration of personal appearance
  • Increasing life insurance
  • Withdrawing from social events, family and friends
  • Change in mood and or routine
  • Increase in farm accidents
  • Family shows signs of stress
  • Increase in physical complaints, difficulty sleeping
  • Increase in drug or alcohol use
  • Giving away prized possessions, calling or saying goodbye
  • Feeling trapped (no way out)
  • “Nothing to live for”
  • “My family would be better off without me; don’t want to be a burden”


And, in today’s current environment, farmers and ranchers have a combination of conditions compounding the typical stress that can be found down on the farm or ranch.


Issues Compounding the Stress

  • Weather
  • Increased production costs
  • Tariffs
  • Trade/foreign competition
  • Increased labor costs/shortage
  • Tax re-evaluations
  • Health issues
  • Plant/animal disease
  • Intergenerational tensions
  • Development encroachment
  • Litigation
  • Environmentalists
  • Commodity of scale
  • Immigration
  • Regulation
  • Equipment failures


This list just names a few, though the list could be longer. Farmers and ranchers, according to research, manage their stress four main ways.


  • Figure, reassess and reassure: Notepad and sticky notes. Always figuring out how to make ends meet. If they can convince themselves it’s going to be ok, they can convince family and loan officers.
  • Distraction: They go get parts, ignore troubling issues, take the day off.
  • Repression: Eat or drink or even do drugs.
  • Broaden and Build: Build positive reserves. When times get bad I remember the good or fun times. (go fishing, camping, other recreational activities)


While some ways to manage the stress are positive, others will obviously have a long-term negative impact. And, if a family member recognizes some telltale signs, the experts suggest a few immediate ways to positively improve the situation.


  • Listen, don’t blame. While time to talk on the farm may be rare it’s important, so listen to what needs to be said and show empathy. Many experts suggest that listening non-judgmentally with care and concern may be most of what’s needed.
  • Recognize the problem, don’t avoid it. Family members can give encouragement and provide resources for help.
  • Cultural and religious beliefs can have a positive impact. Faith for many is the strongest hope to hang on to.
  • Keep Resources Handy, especially during May Mental Health Awareness Month (a legitimate excuse to talk about the issue).
  • Employee Assistance Program:
  • National Alliance on Mental Health:
  • Make It Ok:
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1.900.273.8255.


Finally, in a time when issues on the farm are more pressing than ever, strengthening your own health and wellness may be your best strategy for staying mentally healthy. What are these? Tutor-Marcom has several suggestions.


  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Eat healthily.
  • Balance work and play.
  • Avoid working to weary (a common occurrence on the farm).
  • Take time to unwind before bedtime.
  • Contemplate, pray, sing, meditate or do activities that require mental focus.
  • Be in the moment.
  • Keep your sense of humor.
  • Accentuate the positive. Inventory your skills and strengths.
  • List the things you’re grateful for. (Many suggest making this a regular exercise)
  • Take time to unwind before bedtime.


Find more articles on Fill Your Plate by searching on our blog for any topic.

Share This:
This entry was posted in Arizona, Arizona farmers and ranchers, Farm Safety, Fill Your Plate, Focus on Agriculture, Health Tips, Healthy Eating, In the News, On the Farm, Video and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *