Down on the Farm


He deals with Marion County’s frequently cited No. 1 mental health problem on a daily basis. The problem is depression.

Professionals who work with farmers on problems involving the stresses of their occupation say depression and other mental health problems are rampant among producers, no matter the stability of their backgrounds.

That background can be part of the problem that causes a farmer not to seek counseling when he might benefit from it.

‘High courage’

Bremyer said it is very true that it takes “high courage” to seek good mental health, to admit that you and your family might need help despite what you or others around you might think.

Charlie Griffin, project director for the Kansas Rural Family Helpline and an assistant professor of family studies and human services at Kansas State Univer­sity, said that during the recent drought, he would get two or three calls daily from farmers.

Griffin said usually they were struggling with bills they had no way to pay. Many of them were looking for emotional support.

“Often,” Griffin said, “the first thing out of someone’s mouth is, ‘I don’t know where to turn.’”

One Marion County farmer said this week that often the stresses don’t get much better even when conditions improve.

For instance, you might think farmers are elated with good fall harvest and some of the highest market prices in years.

The problems unfold, though, the farmer said. Wheat prices have been dropping the past week, and most farmers in this area didn’t have wheat to sell anyway because of the spring freezes that destroyed most of the 2007 crop.

Now they’re watching the newly planted winter wheat starting to grow, and “everyone wonders where the prices will be by next summer’s harvest.”

The farmer said the stress increases because the prices of inputs—things like fuel and fertilizer—are going up even faster than the grain prices.

“Gasoline and diesel are rising for farmers with all the machinery they run the same as they are for everyone else,” the farmer said. “Where will the net income be? Or, will there be any?”

He noted how the anxiety can build beyond weather and production decisions when factors farmers can’t control are changing rapidly.

High anxiety

Uncontrollable anxiety can be one of the chief contributors of depression, Bremyer said, adding, “Yet, I don’t see much of that population (farmers).”

He does personal counseling, marriage counseling, counseling for alcohol and substance abuse—with depression at the root of the causes for many.

“Farmers are people who suffer depression and stresses probably at high levels, but they are people who usually don’t seek our services,” Bremyer said.

“It’s the rural mentality, the culture. They feel like they have to pick themselves up by their own boot straps, to just go on. It’s an old-school mentality. You just persevere.

“If they talk to anyone, it’s within their families or to their pastors. And it’s good that they talk to someone. Pastors can help a lot.

“But they can hurt themselves when they are resistant to help and support,” he added. “Their problems tend to last longer, perhaps for life, and, yes, it can hurt their families more. Their children can suffer.

“It’s a lot of work for them to do by themselves. They can be thinking about it, but not finding solutions. It can help to deal with problems, to find reality, by visiting with a therapist.”

Living inside

Bremyer said every person lives most of his life inside his own mind, even if the focus is on what happens in the world around him. This means, he said, that a person lives life within his own cognitive thought, which often distorts reality.

These distortions can grow because of the anxieties of life, he said. A person’s distortions can grow to the extent that he doesn’t realize how depressed or problem-ridden he really is.

For example, he said, a person can experience a loss in life, particularly a financial one, and believe that other members of the community are looking down on him, or disdain him for his problems.

The truth, Bremyer said, is that this probably is a distortion because the other people are too concerned with their own problems to pay attention to someone else’s.

In reality, Bremyer said most friends and neighbors who are relatively healthy would like to help anyone they know who is having problems. The exceptions are those with power or ego or emotional problems themselves.

People do care

Bremyer acknowledged that the existence of Prairie View as a community-supported mental health facility is evidence that most people care about others. Care is exhibited throughout a community, one on one, or in the support groups and churches, he said.

“I believe it’s in our natures to care when we really know what’s going on—if we are healthy,” Bremyer said. “People have compassion.

“Good mental health should be a goal,” he added. “It’s a brave thing to realize you need help, and to seek it. It takes real courage. You are making yourself vulnerable, and trusting somebody else.

“It may not be easy, but you need to do it for yourself and for your family.”

Bremyer said that too often a person regrets not seeking help when problems force family members to do so years later.

Winter warning

Griffin warned that calls to the help line typically become more numerous as the year moves further into winter and the seasonal farm work is done. With more time on their hands, farmers start going over their financial record.

Griffin added that this is a time when “a lot of farmers go through some seasonal depression, and some of them could benefit from assistance from a mental health professional.”

Bremyer acknowledged that depression or anxiety, or an inability to define one’s identity beyond his or her profession, are problems that can sometimes be exhibited in the culture.

For instance, auctioneers tell stories of farmers who die within months after their businesses are sold.

Then there are almost universal admonitions from senior farmers to young people who would like to farm telling them it is impossible to make it, and to get a “better job” elsewhere.

Many would say that’s just good advice when looking at income, but Bremyer agreed that it’s also symptomatic of a group not happy with itself.


Heed the signs of depression

Farmers may be candidates for mental health services because their occupation can be high in anxiety, stress and depression. How do you know if you or a family member needs help? Seth Bremyer of Prairie View offered these symptoms for depression from the Psychia­tric Guide. If you have five or more of the symptoms within a two-week period, and it represents a change from your normal situation, you may be experiencing a “depressed episode.”

n Being in a depressed mood.

n Lack of interest or pleasure.

n Significant weight change when not dieting.

n Insomnia, which is too little sleep, or too much sleep, “sleeping away the day.”

n Feeling “keyed up,” restless—or the opposite, lethargic.

n Fatigue or loss of energy every day.

n Feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt, not being willing to let go of the past.

n Diminished ability to think or concentrate. Being indecisive every day.

n Recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.


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