Originally authored by Suzanne Stluka, former SDSU Extension Food & Families Program Director.
BROOKINGS, S.D. – Over time, the impacts of low markets and extreme weather can take a toll on South Dakota’s farmers, ranchers and those who care about them.
“Staff began to share tough stories of how these chronic stressors were impacting agriculture producers. Stress of hearing these stories, but not knowing what to do was impacting our team. We knew we needed to do something.”
In response, SDSU Extension hosted workshops across the state to provide agriculture producers, their family, friends and those who serve them, with the knowledge to recognize and respond to signs of chronic stress, which can result in changes in emotions and behavior.
Uniquely designed, SDSU Extension hosted two separate workshops: one focused on agriculture producers and their families, the other designed for agri-business and service providers.
Led by SDSU Extension staff who received national Mental Health First Aid training, the workshops focused on stress management strategies as well as support strategies when dealing with the impacts of chronic stress or working with those suffering from chronic stress. The first set of workshops were held on April 15, 2019 in Aberdeen, Sioux Falls, Pierre and Rapid City. More workshops will be held on May 23, 2019 at SDSU Extension Regional Centers in Lemmon, Mitchell, Watertown and Winner.
“I don’t think anxiety or depression is something people readily discuss. It’s easier to talk about concerns over the weather or markets – but these factors, which our farmers and ranchers cannot control - can have a lasting and unhealthy impact on them and their families,” says Krista Ehlert, Assistant Professor & SDSU Extension Range Specialist, whose position is based in the Natural Resource Management Department within the College of Agriculture, Food & Environmental Sciences.
“I don’t think anxiety or depression is something people readily discuss. It’s easier to talk about concerns over the weather or markets – but these factors, which our farmers and ranchers cannot control - can have a lasting and unhealthy impact on them and their families.”
Ehlert was among the team of SDSU Extension staff leading the workshops.
She and the other workshop presenters traveled to Michigan State University to participate in Mental Health First Aid training, to be trained to lead farm stress workshops. They joined more than 100 extension personnel from 20 land grant institutions across the nation.
“The economic and extreme weather challenges, and the impact the resulting chronic stress has on farmers, ranchers and those who care about them, is not isolated to South Dakota. It is nationwide,” Ehlert says.
In addition to understanding the warning signs of chronic stress, the workshops provide some stress management techniques, emphasize the importance of self-care and encourage producers to reach out for support from family, friends or professionals.
“Everyone has stress. You often don’t know what people are going through. Being aware of symptoms and how to communicate more effectively with people experiencing extreme stress makes a difference because you feel like you can help,” Ehlert says.
Attendee feedback from the first workshops emphasized the value in discussing the topic, Stluka added. “As we talked with participants, and from surveys, they kept saying they were glad we brought them together to talk about this. We need to make sure our farmers and ranchers understand they are not alone.”
May 23 workshop information
Two workshops will be held May 23, 2019 at SDSU Extension Regional Centers in Lemmon, Mitchell, Watertown and Winner.
Communicating with Farmers Under Stress workshop is designed for agri-business professionals and service providers. It begins at 9 a.m. MT / 10 a.m. CT until 1 p.m. MT / 2 p.m. CT. The workshop is designed to help participants with the following:
- Build awareness around potentially stressful conditions affecting some farmers.
- 2Learn stress triggers, identify signs of stress, and review helpful techniques for responding.
- Learn techniques for identifying, approaching and working with farmers who may not cope with stress effectively.
- Learn where to go for additional help.
To help cover costs, this workshop is $30 and includes lunch and handouts. To register, visit the Events page and search Farm Stress Workshop. If your organization or business is interested in having a workshop on site, contact Ehlert at 605.394.2236 or by email to learn more.
Weathering the Storm in Agriculture: How to Cultivate a Productive Mindset workshop is designed for farm and ranch families. The evening meal and workshop are provided at no cost to participants.
The event begins at 5:30 p.m. MT / 6:30 p.m. CT and ends at 7 p.m. MT / 8 p.m. CT. Families are encouraged to attend and bring their children as SDSU Extension 4-H team members will provide programming to youth in attendance.
During the workshop, participants will:
- Identify stress signs and symptoms.
- Practice three everyday strategies for managing stress.
- Make an action plan for managing stress.
- Find out where to go for more help and resources.
- Be provided with brief market and climate forecasts to be better prepared, informed, and ready to take action.
To register for this free event, visit the Events page and search Farm Stress Workshop.
Signs you or a loved one needs mental health support
So, how do you know if someone you know, or love is battling anxiety or depression? Andrea Bjornestad, Assistant Professor & SDSU Extension Mental Health Specialist shares some symptoms to watch for among family and friends:
- Depression, hopelessness
- Withdrawal from people or activities they ordinarily enjoy
- Negative thoughts, including frequent talk about disappearing or death
- Strong feelings of guilt or low self-esteem
- Decline in hygiene or appearance
- Alcohol or substance misuse
- Stockpiling medication
- Easy access to firearms
If you see the above symptoms or assume someone is struggling, don’t hesitate to get involved. “If someone is struggling with emotions such as sadness, anger, or irritability, socially withdrawing from others, or changing their behavior, don’t hesitate to ask them if they are thinking about killing themselves,” Bjornestad said. “Don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions. You asking, will not impact a person’s response or thoughts.”
How to begin the conversation? Bjornestad suggests talking to the person alone and in a private location.
“It is important to describe any changes you’ve observed in the person and to let them know that you care about them,” Bjornestad says. “After describing changes, you may need to ask tough questions directly including, “Have you had any recent thoughts of death and dying?” or, “Are you experiencing thoughts of suicide?’”
If the answer is yes, the following resources are important:
- Help the person get immediate mental health assistance. Offer options such as the Helpline (dial 211) or Farmers Stress Hotline 800-691-4336; call a family member to come help and potentially take the person to the hospital; call a local mental health crisis team; call for emergency medical services. Do not leave the person alone.