So often when we discuss mental health in agriculture, the suicide statistics are cited, and the stresses of the job are rehashed. While these are important and striking, we each owe ourselves the opportunity to evaluate where we are at and how we interact with those around us.

During World Dairy Expo, Ted Matthews, the director of Minnesota Rural Mental Health, detailed a few tips for interacting with those on farms and for managing one of the most common emotions, anger.

“Farmers don't call psychologists,” he began. “When I was working for FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), we had a program going for a little over a year, and an extension agent called me and asked if I worked with farmers. I said, ‘Well, of course, we work with farmers; we work with everybody.’ Then, I looked in our books, and in over a year the state of Minnesota had a total of zero farmers call.”

Matthews shared many tidbits for improving the working situation of farms. To no one’s surprise, he began with a conversation on communication.

“Listening is vital, or communication doesn't exist. If I don't hear what you're saying, it doesn't matter, so working on listening skills becomes really important,” he said.

Look at it from the perspective of anger. As Matthews explained, anger by itself doesn’t exist. Instead, he shared that anger is so often an emotion that is triggered by other emotions and situations.

If we were to look at anger on a scale of one to ten, Matthews detailed that the most balanced people exist around two to three. As stresses are added in the form of lack of sleep, finances, and so forth, we move around on the scale.

Matthews said the critical point on the scale is eight.

“Number eight is the important number because we justify our anger at that point. Once we justify our anger, we're going to explode, but it's just a matter of if we will do it right this second or in a couple minutes,” Matthews explained. “What we do when we're angry, people remember. This is going to shock all of you, but when do you suppose I get the most calls for marriage counseling? Right after harvest.”

As for solutions, Matthews reminded the crowd that learning how to de-escalate an angry situation is so important.

“The safe thing to do is say, ‘Let's talk about this tomorrow.’ Make sure you have a time to do that,” he concluded.

If you would like to learn more on the topic of mental health, you can listen to Matthews whole presentation here.

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2023
December 4, 2023
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