PEOSTA, Iowa — Being a farmer means dealing with stress and adverse conditions, but mental health can easily be put on the backburner.

“We believe mental health is so critical,” said Natalie Roy, executive director of AgriSafe, during a webinar about mental health in rural areas.

“We can’t strive for total farmer health if we don’t think about someone’s well-being in their mind, as well as their body.”

Rural Americans often lack access to mental health providers, making it more difficult to address depression, anxiety and other problems.

“Seventy-four percent of Americans who seek help for symptoms of depression will go to a primary care provider,” Roy said. “Unfortunately, the diagnosis of depression is missed about 50% of the time in a primary care setting — that’s what we want to see change.”

Diane Hall, senior scientist for policy and strategy at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, defined mental health during the webinar.

Mental health: A state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.

Mental health is not the same as mental illness, suicide, substance use disorder, or opioid use disorder.

“We all have mental health, and it fluctuates,” Hall said. “Sometimes day to day, sometimes hour to hour. It can range from excellent mental health to poor mental health.

At The Root

Rural areas face specific challenges.

“In rural areas, the citizens need to travel further distances in order to get services,” Hall said. “They may also be less likely to have insurance.

“There are shortages in mental health professionals. Most people do receive care from their primary care physician. There’s also the issue of acceptability created by stigma, where people don’t feel that it’s acceptable to seek support or assistance.

“Stigma is a critical issue. Not talking about mental healthiness issues can contribute to stigma.”

Stress levels are on the rise for people across the country, including in rural areas, Hall said.

Healthy behaviors can help people deal with stress.

“We know from our data that only one in four rural adults practices at least four out of the five health-related behaviors: not smoking, maintaining normal body weight, being active, nondrinking or moderating drinking and sufficient sleep,” Hall said.

“If somebody is under stress, they may decide to eat more, that they don’t have the energy to exercise, or decide to drink or smoke as a way to cope.”

It’s crucial to be aware of the signs of mental and behavioral stress.

Hall encouraged rural healthcare professionals to promote emotional well-being.

Learn more about AgriSafe at www.agrisafe.org.

Erica Quinlan can be reached at 800-426-9438, ext. 193, or equinlan@agrinews-pubs.com. Follow her on Twitter at: @AgNews_Quinlan.

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