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Central Georgia farmers face challenges with managing mental health

The Rural Health Innovation Center found more than 70% of farmers did not have access to a psychologist. However, help is available.

BYRON, Ga. — The Rural Health Innovation Center at Mercer University School of Medicine conducted a survey where 1,651 farmers talked about their mental wellbeing. It included farm owners, farm managers, first generational farmers, and experienced farm workers. 

They found common stress factors impacting their mental health well-being included unpredictable weather, long work hours, and financial uncertainty. Jennifer Mastronardi owns Pleasant Oak Equestrian Center in Byron, Georgia. 

She says talking about mental health is important in the agriculture community.

"Whether you're in the farming industry and doing crops. I work with children and I work with horses, and I also have adult clients as well. I try to always keep everything very open," Mastronardi said.

When it came to farmers' personal health, about 60% of farmers do not have access to basic medical care. Dr. Anne Montgomery with Mercer School of Medicine says farmers are finding ways to cope.

"The most popular coping mechanisms were exercise and walking, talking to family and friends about their problems, engaging in a hobby, drinking alcohol was number four, and then watching TV or reading," Dr. Montgomery said.

Mastronardi manages 25 horses at the equestrian center. Mastronardi says the weather is a stress factor, which was one of the stress factors farmers faced as well. She says telling adults and children they can't come is tough.

"This their therapy. They come out here, they come out here, they get the unconditional love from the horses and they learn immediate reward," Mastronardi said.

Dr. Montgomery told 13WMAZ there was a lack of discussion about mental health which can lead to suicide. 

"We do know farming is very stressful in general. A lot of things are out of their control, like the weather. Oftentimes, prices of the products are also out of their control, so it is very stressful," Dr. Montgomery said.

Coping mechanisms they found farmers used were exercising, talking with family and friends, doing other hobbies, drinking and watching TV, and reading. Drinking was number four on the list. However, if you or someone you know in the agriculture industry is struggling, Dr. Montgomery says, there are resources available. 

They include Farm State of Mind, 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, and the Georgia Agricultural Wellness Alliance. The alliance is currently recruiting members to join.

Other stressors besides the weather impacting farmers were the cost of fertilizer and diesel fuel. When the war in Ukraine started, the price for these items increased.

You can find the full report here.

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