Resources available through Gundersen Clinic to assist farmers with mental health

Oftentimes in rural communities, when a neighbor is in need, farmers are the first to step up and help. Yet when they’re the ones in need of assistance, they hesitate to ask for that same help they so freely give.

Spring can be a stressful time for some area farmers as they prepare for another growing season, and that stress can have a negative effect on their mental health. That’s why officials at Gundersen Health System say farmers need to focus on themselves and reach out when feeling overwhelmed by the demands of their work – even if that’s something they’re not inclined to do.

“Often there are worries about a stigma associated with mental health, and people are afraid to seek help. They don’t know where to seek help,” said Kimberly Lansing, MD, a physician at Gundersen Health System and director of curriculum for the Wisconsin Academy for Rural Medicine. “For farmers, it’s always been this ‘pull yourself up by the bootstraps.

We’re this tough American farmer, and people depend on us.’”

Stress is a natural and daily part of a farmer’s life, said Dr. Lansing, who herself farms in rural La Crosse County. Their crops are dependent upon – and at the mercy of – Mother Nature, where one weather event could wipe out an entire season’s worth of profit. Farmers also depend on the markets – another aspect they have no control over. Even the pandemic played a part, sometimes crippling farm labor sources.

“If you really look at this, you’re saying, ‘I’m going to work every day, and I don’t know what my paycheck is.’ How many of us would go to work, but you don’t know how much you’re going to be paid?” Dr. Lansing said. “That’s a lot of stress for people.”

Fortunately, there are several mental health resources geared specifically toward farmers, as well as those anyone can access. Organizations such the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation supports farmers facing stress due to low market prices, poor weather and other factors.

However, farmers – and anyone – who seeks mental health support can start with their primary care physicians at any Gundersen clinic location. These providers are often the first people to notice signs of mental distress, Dr. Lansing said. However, family and friends would do well to check in on a farmer they know – maybe over a cup of coffee – just to see how they’re doing. Notice if you see a change in mood, or if the person verbalizes stressors in life.

“There are a lot of very subtle signs like that that pop up,” Dr. Lansing said.

Anyone who would like to seek mental health assistance should contact their primary care provider or call the Gundersen Waukon Clinic at 563-568-3000.