GREAT FALLS — Life on the farm and ranch comes with a lot of stress. "I think the biggest stressor in farming is financial. You're always watching the market. National policies have big implications for what you need to do,” said Cynthia Johnson, who has a farm with her husband outside Conrad. "Then, you've got the every day 'Let's take care of business. One project at a time. We farm, so in the wintertime that's what it is. It's one project at a time. Folks that ranch, they're at it 24/7."
Johnson is well aware, in more ways than one, of the toll the life can take on a farmer and rancher's mental health.
"As a child, growing up I had experiences in southeastern Montana of Ag producers who took their own lives. You don't see it when you're living with it. You don't understand what could've caused that,” Johnson said. "I have seen moments in time in our lives where the projects in front of you are so overwhelming that you've got analysis paralysis and you're just stopped. Those are the days when you need to take care of your mental health."
MSU Extension has just opened a survey to try to identify stressors farmers and ranchers face. Click here if you would like to participate. It's a collaborative project with a dozen other states and multiple U.S. territories.
"The goal then is, based on the stressors farmers mention to us, what kind of topics would be relevant for them, helpful for them to reduce their stress and perhaps better cope if they're having any sort of issues with mental health. Then, the next part of it is to develop education and outreach materials,” said MSU Extension Health & Wellness Specialist Dr. Michelle Grocke.
Grocke said similar surveys have been done in other states but there has never been a collaborative effort like this.
"We're really hoping this alleviates a lot of the stress,” said Grocke. "Secondarily, with better health, we know we can focus more time on better crop yield, having a better outlook on life and being able to manage the farm and ranch better."
Johnson's hope is that the survey will help make accessing help easier for those who need it.
"There are all kinds of services and professionals and organizations and projects. It's just hooking people up with them,” Johnson said.
The survey will be available for the next two months and extended for a third if necessary with the goal of having the survey results analyzed and presented in late summer.
Another survey will be done in 2022 for farm and ranch workers.