Farmer Mental Well-Being Pilot Study Complete Report Now Available.

The Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center partnered with the Georgia Foundation for Agriculture and students in Mercer University School of Medicine’s Rural Health Sciences Ph.D. program to study the mental well-being, stressors, and coping mechanisms for individuals in farm occupations. The results from the pilot survey, conducted in May and June, were released in November. A statewide survey is planned for January 2022.

More than 500 farm owners, farm workers, farm managers, and their spouses participated in the pilot study. This included farm owners in 136 of Georgia’s 159 counties and farm workers in 86 of them. They were asked questions about mental well-being topics, including negative emotions, perceived stress, time spent worrying, conditions that cause stress and coping mechanisms.

The study found that that although half of the farmers are happy with their occupation, they do experience a lot of stress from a variety of sources. Most farmers worry at least one to three hours per day, and about half felt loneliness, sadness, or depression, with a third feeling hopeless. Almost one-third (31%) had suicidal thoughts at least once in the past year. Less than a quarter of participants indicated they had access to a psychologist. About 12% said they would like to visit a mental health professional but have not done so yet.

The effects of COVID-19 were among the top stressors for both farm owners and farm workers. Farm workers were predominantly worried about retirement savings, while farm owners were focused on the effect of the weather on their income. Almost half of survey participants said they worried about succession planning.

Farmers who do not have access to emergency medical care, in-office routine medical care, telephone access for routine medical care, or telephone access to a psychologist had significantly higher perceived stress. Farmers who experienced the highest perceived stress were also more likely to use unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as hitting or injuring themselves, hitting or kicking things, or using over-the-counter and illicit drugs. Two thirds of survey participants indicated did not have access to recreational activities generally considered to be healthy coping mechanisms.

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