Farmers addressing mental health stress

Published: Oct. 6, 2021 at 5:36 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - They’re some of the hardest-working people in Michigan. Farmers often work the land from sunrise to sunset to put food on our tables, and it can be stressful.

One Midwest farmer, Lowell Neitzel, recently talked to reporters about his struggles with his mental health.

His journey as a farmer began as a young boy, harvesting crops and operating combines. But his journey with mental health issues began as a young man and a 4th generation farmer, after the loss of his father.

Neitze said, “You know, I wasn’t as close to him as I wanted to be at the end, but I was able to say goodbye to him at the end and it was a big deal to me. And after that, I realized there was something wrong. My wife reached out to me and grabbed me one afternoon or one evening and said ‘Hey you’re not really right, right now.’”

Dealing with the tragic loss, Lowell was reluctant to get help. He says many farmers are due to the stigma behind mental health in rural communities.

“You know, at an early age grandma and grandpa taught me we’re tough, you know? You have a bad day you suck it up and keep up trucking,” he said.

While the stigma remains the same, so do the stresses and daily tasks of a farmer.

“You’re by yourself and there is nothing to do but sit and watch and listen,” Neitze said. “I mean, you’ve got the radio on, but it’s background noise. And your mind is racing about ‘What if this breaks down? What happens if they are talking rain tomorrow? How much rain are we going to get?’ And you can go down the rabbit hole pretty fast.”

Lowell says getting out of that rabbit hole can be tough for farmers, even with help from a provider.

Neitzel said, “They’ve helped me out, but a little bit of the lack of knowledge of farming and the stresses that we deal with… their lack of knowledge is kind of a hindrance a little bit. So a lot of times when I’m on my session I’m spending 15-20 minutes of time on the dynamics of the farm the dynamic of what I’m feeling.”

And the lack of understanding isn’t the only obstacle.

Deb Odhle, with Kansas Corn, said, “It still is insurance-related. Some insurances don’t cover the therapy or types of support the farmer might need. Or, perhaps the farmer doesn’t even have insurance.”

Odhle works to raise awareness about the financial burdens, but recognizes the impact of the pandemic.

“Telehealth became much more accessible and the billing on that became much more feasible,” Odhle said.

MSU Extension has put together some mental health resources for farmers ON ITS WEBSITE.

If you are really struggling, the National Suicide Hotline has trained professionals ready to listen. That number is 1-800-273-8255.

Copyright 2021 WILX. All rights reserved.

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