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A changing climate is impacting farmer mental health – InForum


Farmers, ranchers and service providers face unique challenges in a changing climate, including emotional tolls of stress, anxiety, grief and trauma.

American Farmland Trust hosted an online conversation

for Mental Health Awareness Month which highlighted some of the climate-stress challenges faced by members of the ag community. 

A 2021 survey of young people ages 16 to 25 in 10 countries

found that 59% of those who responded said they were “very or extremely” worried about climate change, while 84% said they were at least “moderately” worried. More than 50% said they experienced strong, negative emotions about it, while three-fourths of respondents said they were frightened about the future.

American Farmland Trust’s Addie Candib, who moderated the conversation, said that climate-related stress can take a toll on farmers, ranchers and food producers, who are “intimately entangled with natural ecosystems and weather patterns.”

“They experience firsthand the impacts of a changing climate on those systems and may have deep connections to the land and places that are impacted by climate shifts and climate-related disaster,” Candib said. “As the agricultural sector specifically talks a lot about climate resilience and climate-resilient practices, it’s key that we broaden our understanding to encompass the social and emotional elements of both community and individual resilience.”

Lian Zeitz works with the

Climate Mental Health Network

, which is a nonprofit that focuses on addressing the mental health consequences of the climate crisis. Zeitz said that climate change can be an “amplifier” for preexisting mental health conditions.

“If you were dealing with any sort of mental health struggles for a range of reasoning, the overlaying of climate change leads to an amplification of the challenges, or a heightened intensity of what you’re experiencing,” Zeitz said. “We already live in a world where there’s limited mental health resources and collective support and education, and so that amplification is a big issue, and I think farmers are experiencing that in their families.”

The “intensity” of the climate crisis makes matters even worse, Zeitz said.

“For instance, with last year being the hottest year on record in a long time, there’s a direct correlation between extreme heat and mental unwellness,” he said. “Farm workers and people that are in farming communities are often spending the most time in these extreme weather conditions, and then getting the most exposure to the changing landscape. And so the nature of how things are changing so rapidly causes also that amplification of challenges.”

Climate cafe groups, which are popping up around the country, allow people to talk as a group about their emotions around climate change.

“It’s an open source model for convening people in a community to process climate emotions together,” Zeitz said of climate cafes. “I would say those are on the lighter end of the spectrum of direct mental health support, and they’re great for community processing.”

Zeitz said he’d like to see more group therapeutic models in the U.S. where people can navigate what they’re experiencing in a way that feels supportive.

Caitlin Arnold Stephano is the program manager of the

Farm Aid Hotline

(1-800-FARM-AID), which has been around for as long as the 40-year-old organization. 

“We are the only national farmer hotline in the country,” Arnold Stephano said. “We’re not specifically a mental health hotline or just a crisis line, but we do take crisis calls, farm stress calls, and we do get quite a few of those. We also get calls from farmers all over with all sorts of questions, looking for resources.”

Arnold Stephano farmed for over a decade, starting right after she graduated college, but reached a point of not being able to afford to buy land or make farming financially work for herself. 

“So here I am, now running the farmer Hotline at Farm Aid, and what really keeps me motivated in this work, and why I continue to do it, is I know what it’s like to be a young farmer that was not able to make that dream happen for myself,” she said. “I know how painful that experience can be. And if I can keep one farmer farming, and on the land, that makes all of this totally worth it to me.”

If you or someone you know is experiencing an acute mental health health crisis, please dial 988 or visit 988lifeline.org.

I am a general assignment agricultural reporter who covers everything from food to land, farm emergencies and co-op mergers to trade shows and 4-H fundraisers; using multiple elements of media. I prioritize stories that amplify the power of people. 

As an ag reporter, I’ve covered the opioid crisis, herding dogs, trade wars, collapsed barns, COVID-19 pandemic, immigrant farmers, regenerative poultry, farmland transition, milking robots, world record pumpkins, cannabis pasteurization, cranberry country and horseradish kings.

I report out of northeast Rochester, Minnesota, where I live with my wife, Kara, and our polite cat, Zena. Email me at nfish@Agweek.com





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