After reading previous columns about depression and suicide among farmers, several readers asked, “How do I know when someone is depressed or suicidal and what can I do?”
While all persons and situations differ, there often are observable signs of excessive stress, depression and suicide.
Proper antidepressant medication and professional counseling are “treatments of choice” for depression and prevention of suicide. But sometimes antidepressant medications can actually worsen the condition when the depressed individual has been exposed to certain pesticides.
It is important that physicians (doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants) managing antidepressants for farm people ask questions about possible recent pesticide exposures and even take blood samples for analysis.
Physicians, nurses, pharmacists, veterinarians and other professionals can learn about these precautions in a continuing education course called Agricultural Medicine, which is taught at several universities and medical programs in agricultural regions around the country. The Agricultural Medicine course began at the University of Iowa about 20 years ago.
Besides Iowa, the Universities of Illinois, East Carolina, Vermont, North Dakota, the Nebraska Medical Center, and the National Farm Medicine Center are among the institutions that offer this training. The nearest available location for the course can be found through an online search of “agricultural medicine.”
AgriSafe Clinics (www.agrisafe.org) also are able to help interested persons learn about this specialized training and can help farm people with health issues, including behavioral health screening and personal protective equipment.
Sometimes seriously depressed persons experience a rebound after beginning antidepressant medication and are at higher than usual risk for self harm. Robert Lincoln of Sydney, Australia, described this situation:
When they start a new medication their [energy level] returns before they start feeling better and that is when they are in the danger zone. The problem is that doctors, counselors and pharmacists fail to educate patients and their families what the road to recovery entails. Almost always, these events are complex and multi-faceted. In the end we can better understand the contributors but never fully understand what was going through a person’s mind when things like [suicide] happen.
Prevention of exposure to harmful chemicals is best. Dr. Paul Gunderson, Director of the Center for Technology-Optimized Agriculture in North Dakota, strongly urges chemical applicators to minimize exposure to crop protection products by wearing nitrile gloves, goggles, and aprons when mixing/handling products or adjusting spray nozzles. Applicators should use respirators when entering active spray paths and routinely wash hands. To insure good respirator fit, rid faces of beards and don’t wear caps or long hair.
What helps us when we feel depressed? We can help ourselves and our loved ones with tips and support. Behaviors that increase our own production of serotonin and norepinepherine, the essential body chemicals needed to “feel normal,” include:
The more we know about stress and depression, the better able we are to farm smarter and healthier.
Thank you to all who let me know what you want to read about.
Dr. Rosmann farmed for many years and is a licensed psychologist. He has devoted his professional life to improving the behavioral health of farm people. He teaches the agricultural behavioral health section of several Agricultural Medicine courses around the country. Learn more about Dr. Rosmann from his book, “Excellent Joy: Fishing, Farming Hunting and Psychology,” available at www.icecubepress.com.
– By Mike Rosmann, Ph.D.