Iowa farmer with livestock

Dan Hanrahan feeding his cattle. (Photo: Joclyn Bushman/Iowa Soybean Association)

Mental health is health

May 5, 2023 | Kriss Nelson

Farmers have a team of people helping with money or insurance matters but likely don’t utilize the assistance of those who can help with emotional distress.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, but it’s a topic that’s important every month of the year with resources available to help farmers who are facing challenging situations.

If circumstances are happening beyond your control and you feel sad, have mood swings and withdraw from friends, family or activities, experts say you may need to seek out resources for help.

Dan Hanrahan, a farmer near Cumming, shares stories of mental health and his farm in his blog True Stories and Tall Tales.

Circumstances hit the hardest for Hanrahan in 2012. He was going through a divorce, had just started a new business and his father received a difficult health diagnosis. Emotions, he says, were at an all-time high.

“I felt like, in my case, I was getting rocked by pretty big waves,” he says. “It’s common to have a change in a job, deal with the loss of a relationship or loved one — any of those would be substantial changes, and I was being hit with a couple of them at the same time.”

Iowa farmer with livestock

Hanrahan says you do not have to navigate those rough waters alone.

“Often, we try to get back to smooth sailing ourselves, and there are folks who can help us,” he says.

Hanrahan sought help from a mental health professional who helped him work through his emotions.

“Find folks who can help you think through what it is you want to do,” he says. “Maybe you find it in your church, with a therapist or opening up and visiting with a friend. These interactions aren’t about somebody telling you what to do, but rather it’s about helping lead you to clearer thinking.”

Hanrahan says that no matter the size of your problem, it can still affect your mental health.

“I think folks get into a situation where they think there are people who have it worse than they do, that maybe their problems aren’t that big,” he says. “But those things are worth visiting with someone about to better navigate life.”

Making time for yourself

Every occupation has stress unique to that profession, and farming is no exception. Iowa farmer Sara Preston has found that finding time for herself has helped her be the best mom, farmer and farm wife.

With three children ages 6, 3 and 1, Preston, from Swea City, says it is easy to put her needs last.

Sixth-generation farmer standing with family

“Every day, there are things that need to be done on the farm and addressed for each child, and your needs get put to the bottom of the list, but you need to fill your cup,” she says. “If you keep pouring into other people, your cup becomes empty. You have nothing else to give them.”

Whether it’s taking time to read, starting the day with devotions, taking a hot bath, going for a walk or drinking enough water, Preston says self-love comes in various formats.

“I can ultimately be a better person and a better mom if I have that time,” she says. “Being able to do some things for me and getting over the mom guilt of sometimes putting yourself first is important. Mom guilt is real, but we need to do better about giving ourselves grace and showing ourselves the same love that we give to the rest of our family.”

Mental health first aid

Preston’s parents taught her if she had a problem with something, she should be part of the solution. And a problem she was having was the stigma surrounding mental health.

Her solution was to enroll in a Mental Health First Aid course.

“Mental health disorders are something people cannot control. It is just like if somebody broke their arm; but people feel so guilty if they suffer from depression or anxiety,” she says. “As a community, we need to understand mental health and be supportive.”

Mental Health First Aid is a skills-based training course that teaches participants about mental health and substance abuse issues.

“It’s learning about your mental health, but also being equipped to notice signs in those with mental health disorders,” says Preston. “It could be your spouse, child or neighbor.”

Preston has seen mental health disorders increase in her rural community and the farming industry.

“Farmers are two times more likely to complete suicide compared to other occupations,” she says. “The stress, long hours and uncontrollable dynamics that go into farming can take a toll. Farmers need to make themselves a priority and as an industry, we need to recognize this situation.”

Offering help

If you have noticed a change in someone’s personality or habits, Preston says it’s OK to confront that person and share your concerns.

One concern may be if they feel they may want to complete suicide. If so, you can direct them to the crisis hotline at 988 or the Crisis Text Line, where they can text HOME to 741741 to connect with a volunteer crisis counselor.

Most importantly, do not leave them alone.

“Stay with them, be the person they know cares about them and stay with them until additional help comes,” she says. Others may struggle but not want to hurt themselves.

“You can be a non-judgmental friend they can come to and talk through some of their concerns,” she says.

End the stigma

Hanrahan wants farmers to know that help is available, no matter how seemingly small or big the concern.

“Mental health is health,” he says. “Sometimes I think people get caught up in wondering whether their problems add up to enough to seek help. I don’t know what anyone’s problems tally up to, but I know they and the folks they care about add up to way more than enough.”

Editor’s note: A version of this story first appeared on the Iowa Food & Family Project’s website,