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Being Strong Enough To Take Care Of It All And Yourself Too

Paul Harvey’s So God Made a Farmer, presented at the 1978 National FFA Convention, brings tears to the eyes of those of us who know those men (and women). Many of us can picture our fathers, grandfathers, husbands and sons in that exact role, exhibiting strength and fortitude to carry the weight of their operations, their livelihood and their families on their shoulders, seemingly tirelessly. In many cases, the weight of this load is carried with pride, with determination and with that sense of accomplishment that only a job well done can bring.

At other times, crops fail, calves die, deals go bad or Mother Nature casts her evil spell and that “farmer fortitude” takes a beating. Markets, disease, drought, flood, miserable cold or fire all potentially alter the carefully laid out pattern that, like a kaleidoscope, can change in a minute creating a new design. The new design often brings despair, broken promises, missed payments and creditors with high expectations. That strong farmer back begins to bend under the pressure and desperation sets in. Agriculture is a stressful business because of the many factors that lead to success or failure, most are largely beyond the control of the producer. Unlike some other businesses, the emotional well-being of family farmers and ranchers is very intertwined with their occupation. Pride runs deep among these producers and while recognizing feelings of despair and depression may be easy, asking for help is not. Personality traits of successful farmers and ranchers may contribute to depression. These traits such as willingness to take risks, a strong work ethic, the ability to persevere in the face of adversity and self-reliance all make admitting to a condition that may be perceived as “weak” difficult. Added stress results in working harder, exhaustion, little attention to self-care and keeping problems to themselves rather than reaching out for help.

Signs of depression may include: feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness; angry outbursts, irritability or frustration, even over small matters; loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities; sleep disturbances; tiredness and lack of energy; reduced appetite and weight loss or increased cravings and weight gain; anxiety, agitation or restlessness; slowed thinking, speaking or body movements; feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or self-blame; trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things; frequent or recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts or suicide; unexplained physical problems such as back pain or headaches.

In times like this, it is particularly important to learn to manage stress. Instead of working harder, to the point of exhaustion, take time to sleep — easier said than done when calving in a blizzard or seeding needs to be finished before forecasted rain. Instead of keeping things inside, talk about concerns with friends or family members. Often times, rest and sharing concerns can restore perspective. Seeking medical help for signs of depression is just one more tool to be used in maintaining the health of the farm or ranch business. Asking for help from others is not a sign of weakness but a show of strength.

While friends and family members are so generous with time, money, effort and support to families in need, but when that need portrays itself in the form of emotion we tend to become uncomfortable and at a loss in terms of what can be done. We have all watched someone we care about withdraw, become sullen or irritable or cease to do those things that once brought happiness or joy. We know they are hurting emotionally but don’t know what to do or say. The skills to have difficult conversations have not been learned.

Reaching out to those struggling with mental health can be critical. When someone is battling depression or having thoughts of suicide, don’t wait for them to ask for help. Suicide rates among farmers and ranchers are 50 percent higher today than they were in the farm crisis of the 1980s.

It is important that we pay attention to the people around us. If behaviors are affecting a person’s ability to laugh, live or love, they may need help. If someone is finding excuses not to do things or is shutting off from friends or family members, it is time to reach out with questions and concerns. Depression is often expressed through anger, sadness, lethargy or body aches. Often times, those suffering from depression do not make good business decisions, seem erratic in the motions they go through to get the work done or seem disorganized.

But how do you reach out? What questions do you ask How do you ask?

MSU Extension agent Jane Wolery offers this approach:

•Tell the person you care.

•Tell them why you are concerned.

•Tell them what you’ve observed.

•Tell what you think might help.

•Tell them how you are willing to help.

•Remind them that you are having the conversation because you care.

Spending time together is the first step. It is easier to have a serious conversation while doing something rather than just a faceto- face approach If you are struggling for the right words a simple, “I’m really concerned about you” is a place to start. Share specific observations, tell them you are worried about what you are seeing. If you fear someone is suicidal being direct is the best approach. Ask if they are contemplating suicide. If they respond with “yes,” action is required. Encourage them to seek medical help and offer to go to the hospital. Don’t leave them alone. Montana has ranked in the top five states nationally for suicide rates over the last 30 years; and nationally suicide rates are growing.

A program called QPR — Question – Persuade – Refer — is a program meant to prevent suicide by teaching as many people as possible how to talk with someone they fear is having a mental health emergency that may lead to suicide. Through this program, members of the community learn to recognize warning signs of a suicidal crisis and three steps to intervene. Similar to CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) which is used by ordinary, trained people in an emergency, QPR is intended to give ordinary, trained people the skills to intervene in a mental health emergency.

QPR is rated a “program with evidence of effectiveness.” According to a summary by the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, the three steps are: 1. Question the individual’s intent regarding suicide, 2. Persuade the person to seek and accept help, and 3. Refer the person to appropriate resources.

Having the conversation is crucial. Caring and sharing concern and offering hope can be a lifesaving measure for those suffering from depression or other mental health issues. Gaining skills and gathering tools to intervene with someone who is struggling emotionally can make a huge impact. If you are feeling the effects of depression or know someone who is reach out for more information.

To gain insight into mental health resources in your area, contact your local medical facility or your local Extension office.

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