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Survey details how farmers are dealing with stress during pandemic

Marissa Plescia
Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting
Farmers face a lot of stress because of climate change, the trade war with China and other factors. The COVID-19 pandemic's effect on agriculture has only deepened that stress among some farmers.

Farmers face a lot of stress because of climate change, the trade war with China and other factors. The COVID-19 pandemic's effect on agriculture has only deepened that stress among some farmers, experts said. The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting has been covering this topic as part of a project supported by the Solutions Journalism Network. 

In order to further understand the stress that many farmers face, we sent out a survey that asked people about their own personal experiences with mental health, how they’ve dealt with it, advice they have for others, and what tools and solutions they recommend. 

The survey is anonymous, and, so far, we’ve received responses from people located in Illinois, Missouri, Iowa and North Carolina and are between the ages of 35 and 67. We want to share their responses, which have been edited for length and clarity.

Mental health during pandemic

A man in Champaign County, Illinois, said that he is feeling more isolated during the pandemic but is trying to follow orders from the experts.

“It seems like a 'perfect storm' for mental health issues. I feel isolated; since I am over the age of 60, and considered more vulnerable to COVID-19, I have pulled back from normal activities to avoid possible contact with people. I believe in science and have experience working with public health so I feel I know the impact this could have on the world. It bothers me that so many people and so many of our leaders are taking this so lightly.” 

He also shared that he is unsure how to discuss the pandemic with those who look toward him as a mentor.

“I miss hugging my loved ones, especially the little ones; they don't seem to understand why. I just had a conversation with a young person who looks to me as a mentor, and I couldn't give comforting or encouraging messages. I am also close to many immigrants and volunteer at an organization that serves immigrants; the fear in their eyes, especially the young children is so heartbreaking. I rely on my faith to get me through this, however, I always found comfort in attending church each weekend, (now) that one (refuge) is gone. I still need the contact with others. I need to see smiles and hear laughter, both of which are hard to find these days.”

A respondent in Malden, Illinois, shared that he’s worried for himself and his kids but is hopeful that things will be better in the future.

“I’m sad for myself and my kids but pleased that we’re going to work some things out as a nation so that my grandkids have a few less things to worry about.”

Jason Medows, located in St. James, Missouri, shared that he has “anxiety but it is actually better than before.” Medows runs a podcast called Ag State of Mind, which focuses on mental health in agriculture.

Two respondents said that they received help through therapy and counseling.

“I have had therapy in the past and got a lot out of it,” the respondent from Malden said. “Now I’m just taking care of myself and trying to take it a day at a time.”

One of those two respondents also said he pursued peer support and meditation exercises.

A woman in Iowa said she has dealt with stress by spending time with family, hiking and working.

The Champaign County respondent stated that he has turned to social media to communicate but also sometimes tries to avoid it because of all the negativity. He added that he tries to go on walks every evening and watches old comedy shows.

Advice for others

The Malden respondent shared that it’s important to recognize that there will be times when you feel really down.

“When bad stuff is happening — not garden variety bad, but historically and truly b.a.d. — don’t expect yourself to feel good. Stay connected to what life holds in that moment, accept that sadness and grief and anger are going to be around and try to get time and space to feel your feels.”

Medows said he recommends finding someone to talk to.

The respondent from Iowa said “reorganize your life, take time to reflect, make a priority list and clean up clutter.”

Lastly, the Champaign County respondent recommends staying in touch with loved ones, finding time alone and doing things that make you happy.

Tools and solutions

The Champaign County respondent said an important tool is an unbiased person to talk to.

“Sometimes just to listen; sometimes for advice and encouragement.”

Medows recommends listening to his Ag State of Mind podcast, which holds discussions on mental health and ways to handle it. He also said having in-depth conversations about stress is the key to getting others to do the same.