Difficulties within relationships and maladjustments to stressful situations are part of human nature and are common in farming situations. When these problems interfere with personal life, family happiness, work or other requirements of living, they must be addressed or the problems can worsen and even threaten the continuation of an agricultural operation.
Previous Farm and Ranch Life columns in this series indicated the two most common behavioral health problems of the agricultural population are: 1) relational disorders, including marital conflict and violence, abuse, or neglect toward anyone, and 2) adjustment disorders, which are mostly temporary reactions involving anxiety, depression and mixed emotions.
A preponderance of research findings, which can be found in a 2003 chapter I authored in Partners in Agricultural Health, indicate that farm families’ emotional health waxes and wanes in proportion to the amount of stress they experience. Stress, particularly threats to farmers’ economic well-being, are linked with relationship turmoil and adjustment problems, as well as physical illness.
The strife of relational discord is reflected in a marital divorce rate of the agricultural population that doubled during the 1980s Farm Crisis, whereas prior to that era divorces within the agricultural population were also considerably less frequent than among the general population.
The people involved in family farming operations often readily blame one another for financial difficulties; they are the closest targets and they may be uncertain how to deal with other contributing factors.
Behavioral health maladjustments and physical, psychological and sexual abuse are more likely to occur in rural agricultural areas where interventions like behavioral healthcare and domestic violence programs are often less available than in populated areas.
Moreover, an analysis of psychological distress and help-seeking in rural America reported in the American Journal of Community Psychology in 1997 by Hoyt, Conger, Valde and Weihs, indicated that “persons living in the most rural environments were more likely to hold stigmatized attitudes toward mental health care” and less likely to seek help.
What to do about relational problems and adjustment disorders? Seeking outside assistance is a cardinal recommendation for coping better when a farm family unit does not have adequate knowledge or resources to deal with the issues they face.
Farm families encounter their own tendencies to solve their problems by themselves when they consider asking for help. Tenacious capacity to endure adversity and to rely on their own judgment are characteristics of the inherited agrarian drive that I have often discussed in Farm and Ranch Life articles.
These same tendencies have a downside: resisting external assistance when needed, especially if it involves mental health care.
However, when requesting help is reframed as asking for outside consultation, farm business analysis, mediation, medical care or even behavioral expertise, help-seeking seems more acceptable to farm and ranch residents.
That’s why it is sensible to replace “mental” with “behavioral.” Behavior and behavioral health are understandable to farm people.
Animals, people, insects, and some would even say plants, behave. There is less negative stigma about behavior maladjustment than mental illness.
Finding the right behavioral health assistance tailor-made for farm people is difficult. Here are several resources, most of which are specific to states.
• Iowa Concern Hotline, 1-800-447-1985, serves Iowa residents
• Nebraska Rural Response Hotline, 1-800-464-0258, serves Nebraska residents
• New York FarmNet, 1-800-547-3276, serves New York and parts of New England
• Vermont Farm First, 1-877-493-6216, serves Vermont
• www.rma.usda.gov/regs/mediation.html offers assistance finding farm mediation services in 34 states that offer farm mediation
• www.agrisafe.org/agrisafe-locator offers farmers health and safety resources in many states
There is no directory of behavioral healthcare providers who have expertise with agricultural issues. I often advise persons who contact me when seeking referral assistance to locate their state professional associations, such as: (Insert name of state) Psychological Association, (Insert name of state) Professional Counselor Association, or the titles of other professional associations whose licensed members provide behavioral healthcare, such as social workers and marriage and family therapists.
Contact the state association administrator to ask for help finding one or more skilled professionals within reasonable traveling distance. State association administrators may also know who is proficient in working with people engaged in farming and ranching and their contact information.
Also check with the local Extension office, the local community behavioral health program, private professional providers, farm coaches, and farm business associations to get their recommendations. Online searches with key words like “agriculture, behavioral health services, farm business consultants,” and the requester’s residential region can sometimes turn up options.
The profession of the consultant or provider is less important than the expertise of the person or agency selected for assistance. Sometimes wise persons without terminal academic degrees can provide the sage advice and useful skills that are needed.
Don’t be afraid to try one or more options if it becomes clear after a session or two that the first, second or even additional selections don’t provide what is needed to fix the behavioral health or other problems needing address.
Dr. Rosmann is a clinical psychologist/farmer at Harlan, Iowa. He can be contacted at: www.agbehavioralhealth.com.