“You are not alone.”
That one sentence is the message the University of Wisconsin-Extension, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection’s Farm Center, and others are trying to send farmers facing difficult times. Those organizations also are providing resources to agricultural suppliers and others who regularly work with farmers, to recognize signs of depression and potentially save a life.
“Every day you have an opportunity to save a person,” said Jeff Ditzenberger, a farmer from Argyle, Wis.
Ditzenberger spoke from experience, having once staged an accident to hide an attempted suicide. He said too frequently people say that one should just “buck up, buttercup.” Instead he said people should recognize that depression and suicidal thoughts are not signs of weakness. The real strength comes in seeking help — just as one might seek the help of a crop consultant, veterinarian or finance specialist.
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Chronic stress — the type that farmers experience as a result of poor market prices, government policies and bad weather — creates changes in the brain, said John Shutske, a professor and UW-Madison Extension agricultural safety and health specialist. Such constant stress often leads to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, infection, depression and/or increased susceptibility to injuries because a person is distracted while working. Chronic stress also can lead to sleep deprivation. When someone experiences sleep deprivation that person’s motor skills can mimic those of someone who is legally drunk. Unresolved stress also can lead to substance abuse, addiction or suicide, Shutske said.
Farmers may be concerned about not being able to pay for mental-health services or not having insurance. But the Wisconsin Farm Center, for example, can help identify inexpensive or no-cost counseling services for farm families. The center’s staff members also can help farmers with debt-restructuring alternatives.
Some farmers may try to stage an accident to hide a suicide, like Ditzenberger did. But the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Iowa County has stated, “You are worth more alive. Insurance payouts go to bankers, lawyers and the government before they get to your family.”
After exercising all options, financial situations may force a farm family to make a difficult decision of leaving farming.
“It’s okay to quit,” said Kevin Johnson, a veterinarian at Military Ridge Veterinary Service. “Involuntary exits are usually worse than voluntary exits.”
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