Studies show farm workers experience high levels of stress and poor psychological health.
Many farmers and agricultural workers deal with chronic stress on a daily basis which can lead to many different types of health issues – both physical and mental. Physical health problems they are facing include headaches, memory loss, sleep problems, and injuries due to frequent repetitive nature of physical labor. Mental health issues these workers are facing in the agricultural industry include depression, anxiety, and stress.
A recent study shows high levels of physical and mental health issues among farmers and agricultural workers. In fact, agriculture continuously ranks as one of the most dangerous professions, and farmers have a high risk of death due to chronic stress.
For the study, there were 15,296 people surveyed who are farmers and agricultural workers living in England and Wales. The participants were asked questions related to mobility, self-care, performing usual activities, pain/discomfort, and anxiety/depression. The study found that over half of those surveyed (52%) said they had moderate or extreme physical pain/discomfort. A little over a third of those surveyed (31%) said they have experienced some or severe problems with anxiety/depression. They were also asked their age, gender, farm type, farm size, and farm tenure.
Experts say this research is “compelling evidence” of the need to tackle physical and mental health issues in the agricultural and farming industry to ensure better well-being and help to guarantee the future sustainability of UK food production.
Dr. Rebecca Wheeler, a researcher from the University of Exeter, and co-author of this study said, “The high levels of self-reported anxiety/depression among working-aged people in our sample might be explained by the numerous drivers of farm and business-related stress reported by respondents, including those associated with workload, regulatory demands and paperwork, bad weather, disease, social isolation and maintaining economic viability.”
Those working in this industry must deal with so many serious concerns such as regulatory demands, economy fluctuations, climate, and disease, just to name a few. Not to mention that the COVID-19 pandemic has also had a great impact on the agricultural and farming industry which adds another layer of stress. A poll conducted on behalf of the American Farm Bureau Federation found that 61% of farmers said they experienced more stress and mental health challenges in 2021 than they did in 2020.
Surprisingly, the women surveyed reported fewer problems than their male counterparts with mobility, self-care, performing usual activities, and pain/discomfort. However, women did report more issues with anxiety/depression.
Professor Matt Lobley, from the University of Exeter, and co-author of this study, said, “The results should be seen as an imperative for action as; ultimately, a sustainable and resilient food system requires a healthy agricultural workforce able to maintain and improve production without detriment to themselves and their families.”
For those in the U.S. agricultural industry needing help to deal with their stress, the AgriStress Helpline for Farmers and Ranchers is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week by professionals trained to work with members of agricultural communities. Another option for those needing help is the National Association for Rural Mental Health.