University of Maryland Extension

On National Rural Health Day, University of Maryland Extension Reports a High-Impact Year Related to Farm Stress Management Education

UME conducted four mental health workshops around the state targeting farmers and service providers.
Image Credit: 
Photo by Edwin Remsberg Photography

In early 2018, national reports from USDA, private industry and farm organizations began talking about another “farm crisis.” USDA Economic Research Service forecasted a decrease in farm income that would be the lowest level in nominal terms since 2006. Weather, prices and international trade have created a volatile, unprofitable and uncertain time for production agriculture. It became clear that this was an issue in the northeast, including Maryland. As a response, UMD Extension (UME) agents initiated partnerships and programs including a dedicated farm stress management website, a farm vitality forum bringing together multiple agencies to discuss rural mental health and collaboration, and most recently partnered with the Maryland Association of Soil Conservation Districts to provide four farm stress management workshops around the state targeting farmers and service providers. 

During UME winter agriculture production meetings 517 attendees representing 22 of Maryland’s 24 counties were surveyed regarding their stress level. Of those attending, 62% were farmers, and 20% were landowners. Using a scale from 1 to 10, attendees were asked to rate their level of stress in the past month. Forty-two percent rated their stress level as 6 or more; 26% rated their stress level as an 8, 9 or 10. When asked to rate their current level of stress, 43% rated their stress as slightly, or much higher than the last year. And when asked what factors contributed most to their stress, 91% said finances and 90% said regulations.  

In January 2019, UME funded five educators to attend the Farm Stress Management Summit hosted by Michigan State University. The Educators were trained to facilitate “Communicating with Farmers under Stress,” “Weathering the Storm in Agriculture: How to Cultivate a Productive Mindset,” and completed eight hours of Mental Health First Aid training. Using the information and skills gained, UME conducted four meetings around the state targeting farmers and service providers. These sessions were attended by 82 participants and received positive feedback with requests for additional resources and training.

“As educators, our goals are to raise awareness and build educational resources for communities struggling with mental and behavioral health problems,” explains Shannon Dill, Principal Agent for UME. “There is a social stigma associated with mental health. We aim to break that down by encouraging conversation and connections, with the ultimate goal of increased well-being, profitability, and business sustainability for Maryland farm families.”

With respect to the impact of stress on our bodies, 86% said they gained “a lot” or “quite a bit” from the workshop. In terms of resources to refer people to for help, 82% of attendees said they gained “a lot” or “quite a bit.” On the topic of identifying signs and symptoms of stress, 79% said they learned “a lot” or “quite a bit.” 

Several participants also recorded direct quotes on various aspects of the training, ranging from praise, “I have a better understanding of the physiological effects of stress and how that triggers the emotional response,” to suggestions for the future, “I would encourage you to collaborate with the health insurance extension program, because lack of health insurance that covers mental health care is a big barrier to getting professional help.

“We are energized by the resources we’ve been able to offer in 2019, and are encouraged by a lot of the direct feedback we’ve received from participants,” said Dill. “Looking towards the future, we are committed to supplementing what we’ve already laid in place to ensure our farmers and farm families have the resources to stay physically and mentally healthy.” 

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