I want to start this by saying that I am not a licensed professional. I am just a farmer who knows how it feels to be at the end of your rope with what seems like no way to crawl back from the darkness. You may remember, a few months ago I started a project called Secrets of Ag. It’s a website where people in agriculture can tell me their secrets completely anonymously.
Then every Monday, and occasionally in between, I repost a secret or two for the world to see. The outpouring of love, support, and encouragement from the ag community has been overwhelming. Not only have I received messages from the people whose secrets I have shared thanking me, with every unveiled secret I get dozens of messages from others who have felt or do feel the same.
Somehow, seeing it written or hearing it read out loud is a cathartic release for them. Even if no one else knows it, it’s like they’ve released their own burden out into the world, and they feel a little less alone. Knowing that someone out there understands exactly how you feel and that you’re not the first person to think that thought can be amazingly freeing. You are not alone.
There have been so many other benefits to this project that I never could have imagined. It has helped me, and others, better understand how the people around us are feeling. It’s not just farmers who are hurting. The industry people working around us are hurting, too. It’s also helping those outside of ag better understand what we’re feeling. A message I got just a few days ago from a lifelong city dweller flat out said, “I have always thought that farmers didn’t deal with issues like these. Like your lives were simpler.” I truly feel that with every secret and every word we are starting a conversation about mental health.
Thanks to this project, I think I’ve gotten a pretty good understanding of what mental health in agriculture looks like right now. And here’s what I believe:
- It’s everywhere and it’s bad. It isn’t just affecting the worst of us or those who are weeks or months away from selling out. Everyone is feeling this strain.
- It’s isolating. Farming alone can be a pretty lonely job. Throw in anxiety and depression, and it only gets worse.
- We need more help. The few, limited systems that are in place aren’t enough. We need more.
- Talking helps. One of the biggest things I’ve learned is that the more I talk about my struggles; the more open people are to talk about theirs.
We need an in-between. Doing nothing can’t be an option but asking a farmer to just start seeing a professional right off the bat probably isn’t going to fly either. We need something in the middle. Maybe a local farmer gathering set up simply to see how everyone is doing. No speaker, no formal presentation, just an hour or two for people to talk to each other. To check in. Maybe you even have a therapist there, available to talk if someone wants to.
If you’re reading this, and you’re feeling depressed, overwhelmed, or lost please talk to someone. I may not know you, but I know the world needs you. And I know that the longer you stay depressed, the less you believe that.
The author dairies in partnership with her parents and brother at Spruce Row Farm in Pennsylvania. Jessica is a graduate of Pennsylvania State University, and since 2015, she has been active in promoting dairy in her local community. You can find her and her 250 Jersey cows on Facebook at Spruce Row Dairy or on Instagram at @seejessfarm.