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4-H’er Uses GRHIC’s Farmers’ Mental Well-Being Study for His Award-Winning Project

By Amanda A. Livingston, Director of Communications and Events

Eighth-grader Wilson Armstrong, of Sandersville, won first place in the Human Development category for his project titled “Stress Farming” at the recent 4-H District Project Achievement event.

To compete at the junior level, 4-H’ers choose an area of interest, complete work in that area during the year, research a specific topic, prepare a speech, and present their project to a judging panel. Rocky Tanner, County Extension agent, was familiar with the subject of farmer stress and mental health issues and recommended the topic to Armstrong for his project.

On some level, Armstrong — who also is a member of FFA — understood the stress farmers face due to challenges and financial hardships. Armstrong’s mother, Dianna, grew up in a farming family; her father was a fourth-generation farmer who dealt with the highs and devastating lows of running a farm operation. “When this topic came up, I had a connection with it. I knew exactly what they were talking about, because I lived it,” she said.

It was Dr. Jean Sumner, dean of the Mercer University School of Medicine and family friend, who encouraged Armstrong’s interest in this area when she informed him of the 2022 Farmers’ Mental Well-Being Study conducted by Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center researchers. The study revealed how the complexities of running a farm operation adversely affect farmers’ mental health. Factors like weather conditions, debt, labor shortages, and lack of mental health care contribute to their poor mental health.

The study not only confirmed what Armstrong’s mother already lived through with her family, but it also put the mental health struggles these farming families face into context for him. “I knew that farming was stressful. It took a toll on my family. After I looked into [the study], the dots started connecting for me. I understood it a lot more,” he said.

For Armstrong, the statistics revealed in the study were particularly alarming, especially the statistic that 42% of the 1,651 farmers, spouses, and other agricultural workers surveyed for the study thought about dying by suicide at least once in the previous 12-month period.

It was important for Armstrong to raise awareness on this topic through the 4-H platform, and he has an appreciation for what farmers go through. In a word, Armstrong’s hope for farmers is “resilience.” As a teen, he completed resiliency training classes geared toward young people. It taught coping mechanisms and how, while some things are beyond our control, our reactions and learning from difficult situations are key in maintaining good mental health. He said, “It changes a whole scenario, I believe. It can make a bad situation just a little bit more tolerable.”

Armstrong plans to expand on this topic and continue to advocate for farmers’ mental health and well-being at the senior level 4-H competitions during high school.