Farming remains one of the most dangerous jobs in the U.S. due to the potential for physical injury. However, the occupation can also take a toll on a person’s mental health.

Doctor Michael Rosman of Harlan is a farmer who also works in the field of agricultural behavioral health. He says most people are well aware of hazards on the farm like heavy machinery and confined spaces, but another risk often goes unnoticed.

“The psychological injuries that occur in farming are less well understood,” Rosman says. “It isn’t what the farmer has done, but conditions that are beyond our control that make farming so perilous. Like weather events, change in agricultural policy or market conditions – those kinds of factors.”

A recent study by researchers at the University of Iowa found the suicide rate among farmers is now 50% higher than during the peak of the farm crisis in 1982. Rosman says many farmers allow stress to compound and spiral out of control.

“Most of us can handle two stressors, but when we get to three, they overwhelm us,” Rosman says. “We initially try to overcome the stresses by working even harder. But, when we do that, we usually deprive ourselves of sleep, adequate recreation, and we begin to become overly distressed.” As stress sets in, Rosman says so do biological factors associated with depression. There’s help for anyone experiencing a stress overload, including farmers.

“If we seek treatment or assistance, such as medications and counseling to deal with the stresses, we can restore perspective,” Rosman says. “But, sometimes we avoid seeking help because we’re so bent on trying to take care of things ourselves.”

A program operated by Iowa State University Extension and Outreach is designed to give farmers and all Iowans access to stress counselors and other resources at no charge. The Iowa Concern Hotline is active 24 hours a day, 7 days per week at 1-800-447-1985.


(Thanks to Mark Freie, KLMJ, Hampton)