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Mental health, physical health need same attention

HUTCHINSON, Minn. — If a farmer falls off a ladder and breaks an arm, he or she is rushed to an emergency room at the nearest hospital. There, a doctor will take immediate action to mend the injury and ease the pain from it. Care for the injury will continue until the arm is healed and the farmer has full use of it again.

But what if the injury is invisible?

“If I cut my arm wide open, I don’t look around and ask people what they think. I go to the doctor and get my arm fixed. If emotionally I am hurt, I should be the expert on being hurt and look at what I am going to do and focus on that,” said Ted Matthews, the director of Minnesota Rural Mental Health and a psychologist.

Matthews stressed that good mental health should be regarded as good physical health and not stigmatized.

“Mental health doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. It means if you have stress, anxiety, depression, there are things you can do to make yourself better, healthier, happier,” he said.

Matthews spoke during a Pork Checkoff-sponsored webinar around the current crisis facing U.S. pork producers. Packing plant shutdowns and slowdowns created a backlog of market-ready pigs. With nowhere to go for the animals, farmers have been forced to euthanize hogs.

Matthews addressed some of the emotional impacts that euthanizing the animals they have raised and cared for could be having on pig farmers and their farm workers.

“The farmers that I’ve talked to with needing to slaughter their pigs, that stress level is scary high,” he said.

Anger is the first, most obvious, emotion that many farmers and farm workers are experiencing.

“When we are under this kind of stress, the tendency is for us to get angry. We’re angry at ourself. We’re angry at the situation. We’re angry at people who aren’t doing what they should be doing or they’re not doing it quickly enough,” Matthews said.

Understanding the cause of the anger is an important tool for keeping anger under control.

“Anger, by itself, does not exist. There’s no such thing. What emotion is triggering that anger? Is it stress? Is it feeling pain, emotional pain? Jealousy? Lots of soft emotions create anger. By identifying that, I can talk that through,” Matthews said.

Also by identifying what is causing anger, we can take time to stop ourselves from speaking from anger.

“We tend to say things we don’t mean when we’re angry. We might only feel those things for a few seconds, but whoever we say them to will remember them forever, so understand that keeping your anger under control is important,” Matthews said.

For farmers and farm families, talking the talk — literally — about the importance of family is vital during emotional times.

“Family is, according to every farmer I’ve ever talked to, the most important thing in their life. Prove it by making that family a part of your discussions as to what’s going on with you, rather than think you’re saving them from that,” Matthews said.

Farmers who try to save their families from their own emotional state and what’s happening on their farms are doing the opposite, Matthews said.

“Every person in your family will know you are going through all those things. Most of them will truly want to help you. They can’t help you if they don’t know what it is you are talking about,” he said.

Just as a farmer’s spouse, children, siblings, parents may lean on that farmer during their difficult times, so too should the farmer lean on his or her family members.

“Make sure you identify the family as a truly important part and your spouse as the person to lean on because you lean on them, they’ll lean on you and together you can do a whole lot better,” Matthews said.

Having a strong family and strong family values includes every member sharing their difficult emotional times.

“If we don’t let them in, it doesn’t matter how strong our family values are, we have to be a part of that family. Oftentimes, the male in the family will pull back and pull back to the point where they aren’t really a part of that family. They need to be. If you want to be the head of a household, if you want to be a strong part of that household, then you need to share right along with everyone else in the household or it just doesn’t work,” Matthews said.

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