Farmers call for increased mental health resources amidst COVID-19 pandemic

“Farming, by its nature, can be stressful even during the best of times.”

  • Julia Agos

This story has been updated to include comments from the state Secretary of Agriculture. 

(Harrisburg) – Members of one of Pennsylvania’s largest industries are calling for increased access to mental health services in the agriculture community.

As profit margins narrow and the coronavirus pandemic strains the food supply chain, Cliff Wallace from Lawrence County Farm Bureau said he and his colleagues need help coping with the psychological burden.

Speaking at a meeting with state senators, Wallace called for more counselors who know the language of farming and can understand the tough conditions of their job.

“Farmers are a proud stoic type. They tend not to share their concerns with others. This creates stress within them and inside of their families,” Wallace said.

He said his fellow farmers may be more forthcoming with their struggles, if they had resources more readily available with people who understand the unique issues they face.

State Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee Chairman Senator Elder Vogel of Butler and Lawrence Counties agreed the pandemic has highlighted the need for mental health assistance in the agriculture community.

“Farming, by its nature, can be stressful even during the best of times,” said Vogel, who operates a family farm in Beaver County. “The pandemic added a whole new set of factors to the equation and the added stress placed a substantial burden of the mental health of our farmers.”

The panel also heard from dairy farmers, many of whom had to throw out milk because of the disruption in the food supply chain at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dairy farmer Jessica Peters said she is used to waking up early to milk the cows on her birthday or Christmas. But, the pandemic has exacerbated preexisting issues in the community.

“You’ll talk about your high blood pressure or cancer treatment, but people won’t tell you they’re feeling anxious or depressed and how that’s affecting their day to day lives,” Peters said.

State Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding is calling on friends and neighbors of farmers to reach out and check in on them.

He cited a study published in January by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that said farmers are “among the most likely to die by suicide compared to other occupations.”

Reading says CARES Act funding is available for dairies who lost revenue when the virus first hit the commonwealth.

This story was updated Sept. 24 to correct a typo.

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