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Mental Health

Hawaii’s Agricultural Workers are Struggling with Their Mental Health

— February 14, 2023

Farmers in Hawaii report poor mental health in statewide survey.

A new University of Hawaii study found that as much as 48% of farmers in the Hawaiian Islands aged 45 years or younger have suffered from depression and 14% have suffered from suicidal ideation. That means that nearly 1 in 2 of Hawaii’s farmers are currently struggling with their mental health. The findings show that Hawaiian farmers are now facing unparalleled stress, for a number of reasons, and the results are 17% higher than the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s 2021 assessment on public health employees.

The College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources at the University of Hawaii at Manoa conducted the innovative study that led to these revealing and important conclusions about the mental state of island farmers. UH scientists are working on a number of projects, one of which focuses on the relational aspects of welfare and mental health. The Ag Mental Health Mentors strive to inform and equip friends, relatives, and neighbors with practical skills so they can offer assistance and feel comfortable starting conversations about mental health with those struggling.

Hawaii's Agricultural Workers are Struggling with Their Mental Health
Photo by Tom Fisk from Pexels

More people are beginning to understand the value of agriculture, research shows. According to a survey of 400 locals, 83% of respondents believe that agriculture is crucial to the state, and 56% of respondents are prepared to put more of their money into local produce rather than relying on other products from various parts of the country. But fewer than 1% of the funds in the state’s budget goes toward agriculture, and 85- to 90% of the food consumed in Hawaii is still brought from other parts of America. Thus, there is a huge disconnect between what residents are seeking and what is being provided when it comes to fresh fruit and vegetables.

This is difficult for those who operate in the agriculture industry of Hawaii, and it is especially difficult for specific groups of people in Hawaii, such as those who are younger, have East Asian and Southeast Asian heritage, or are employed in the cattle or seed industries. The top two stressors were overall uncertainties and the COVID pandemic, while agricultural production, money issues, and pest problems also received a lot of attention.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture funds the Agricultural Stress Assistance Program for the Western Region, which includes Hawaii. With 408 growers participating in the survey, the study outperformed all of the other western states thanks to support from the Hawaii Department of Agriculture.

Local Hawaiian group Seeds of Wellbeing has developed a series of audio and video webinars currently with over 1,400 views, mental health preventive recommendations, and a short public relations effort to foster public esteem for producers and ranchers. Drawing awareness around the fact that Hawaii’s agricultural workers are suffering will hopefully increase funding to combat this problem.

The USDA and Hawaii Department of Agriculture are funding the Seeds of Wellbeing initiative, which is also partnered with other groups like the Pacific Gateway Center, GoFarm, Hawaii Farmers Union United, and the Oahu Resource Conservation & Development Council.


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