A Year of the Unknown and Extra Psychological Distresses

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2020. What a year and we are only 6 months into it. COVID-19 has tipped the world upside down. What was considered our normal activities came to a halt and we were left with the realization that what we knew about our daily routines was no longer going to be the case.

Preparing for a natural disaster is often met with not only physical demands but also mental ones that come from these stressors. Just as one would try to be prepared for the physical aspect of a natural disaster, we also need to prepare for what the psychological implications could be as well.

Farming as a way of life embraces a set of standards that may include self-sufficiency of the family unit, the presence and value of multiple generations, children as working participants, traditional gender roles, a strong work ethic, attachment to the legacy of the family farm, a connection to nature and religiousness of life, fight to change, and endurance (Swisher 1998). Many times, while farmers prepare their farms physically many do not take the time to prepare themselves mentally for the natural disaster. The psychological impact of a disaster on a farmer can have lasting repercussions if mental preparations are not made. 

Individuals face a wide range of stressors daily. How they handle those stressors will depend on a variety of factors. This could include but is not limited to family, friends, work, and living environment. There are many potential responses to stressors; the way people respond to and cope with the stressors they experience can profoundly affect the process of recovery from a stressful event. Persons exposed to a traumatic event can experience a wide range of physiological and psychological consequences.

Physiological is defined by Merriam Webster as characteristic of or appropriate to an organism's healthy or normal functioning. This is how stress impacts an individual’s own body physically. Studies have found that forms of chronic musculoskeletal pain can be a symptom of stress as well as hypertension, hyperlipidemia, obesity, and cardiovascular disease (McFarlane 2010).

Psychological consequences are those that impact or affect the mind. As the dairy industry moves forward from the negative effects of the COVID pandemic, memories of those traumatic events may resurface later (McFarlane 2010).

Stress impacts an individual’s physiological and psychological reactions. Preparation is crucial to help alleviate stress. Social support is vital to one’s health. Having a plan of how to communicate when disaster strikes is critical.

In addition to the daily stressors that normal individuals face, a farmer will have additional unique stressors they are exposed to. Farmers face extenuating stresses on a regular day that include financial difficulties, government rules and regulations, public scrutiny, decision making, complexity of work and workload, family problems, segregation, and seclusion. When a natural disaster hits it typically has significant impact on workload, extra financial difficulties, and added governmental regulations.

Anxiety and Depression in Farmers

Farmers often try to conceal their struggles. Many farmers grapple with a higher level of demand on them and the resources they produce. In most cases, farmers will not evacuate even when they are alerted. Their cattle still need to be cared for at least twice a day. The high risk of psychological distress among farmers is explained by uncertain and fluctuating economic prospects, self-reliant cultures, and poor access to mental health services (Fraser et al. 2005). 

Farmers who have a social network close to where they live tend to be less depressed than those who do not. This social network is critical in decreasing the possibility for depression. When farmers fail at their jobs, the amount of stress can lead to adverse health outcomes, including depression and behavioral health problems.

PTSD in Farmers

An individual that has experienced a traumatic situation typically has triggers that cause them to relive their traumatic experience. The symptomatology of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is the reexperiencing or reliving of the traumatic memory, which has both elements of psychophysiological reactivation and psychological distress. A unique part of this condition is the repeated reactivation of the traumatic memory and the associated stress response with the attendant risk of the progressive augmentation of the reactivity of the individual (McFarlane 2010).

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, persons working in the agriculture, forestry, and fishing (AgFF) sector exhibited one of the highest suicide rates: 44.9 and 32.2/100,000 in 2012 and 2015 compared to the general occupational rate of 17.3/100,000 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017). About 84% of the AgFF sector is comprised of farmers (Reed 2020).

Farmers face extenuating stresses on a daily basis. This amount of stress is increased to even heightened levels in periods of difficult times, like natural disasters, inclement weather patterns, or disease outbreaks. When a disaster strikes it typically has significant impact on workload, extra financial difficulties, and added governmental regulations.

Recovery and Resilience

Preparation is critical to help alleviate stress. Social support is critical to one’s health. Having a plan of how to communicate when disaster strikes is critical. It is important to communicate what to do if a disaster would strike. Having an emergency preparedness plan available and updated is critical. Being proactive will help to decrease stress levels during disaster situations. 

Farming is a unique and stressful profession even in normal conditions. It is important to know that you are not alone. If you feel distress or suicidal it is important to know that you are not alone. Disaster Distress Helpline 1-800-985-5990. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255.