Mental health on the farm

Being a farmer is unlike any other profession, and with that comes unique challenges. As farm operations continue to grow and increase in complexity, mental health is a crucial tool in navigating those daily hurdles, said Ted Matthews, a rural mental health specialist who counsels Minnesota families.

In his years working with farmers across greater Minnesota, Matthews has found farmers, especially the older generation, are less likely to address mental health with outside help. It is his hope that this stigma changes, as it has with younger generations.

“Remember we are dealing with being mentally healthier, there is nothing wrong with that,” Matthews said. “Why wouldn’t someone want to be mentally healthier?”

Ted Matthews

With the size of today’s average farm in Minnesota, farmers are faced with challenges not dealt with in previous generations. The increased value of your typical farm operation, for example, has led to increased complexity when it comes time to divide that asset within the family.

“Farms used to only be worth the labor and the value you get off the crop,” he said. “You can’t just divide a $3 million farm four ways if you have four kids.”

Matthews said often many of the issues that arise during this process are related to mental health. Addressing the personal issues within the family make the path to resolution much clearer, according to Matthews.

Compared to previous generations, today’s farmer is also under much more stress, a lot of which is out of his or her control. Matthews said sources of this stress include legislative actions affecting the farm, fluctuating subsidies, and commodity prices.

“Conversations between farmers in coffee shops used to be all about the weather,” Matthews said. “Today they are talking about the corn market in Bolivia.”

By taking a proactive approach to effectively dealing with these modern day headaches, Matthews said rural residents are much less likely to turn to a chemical dependency or even domestic abuse.

Mental health is also an important aspect of running a productive farm. Today’s farmer may have to look for outside help to maintain operations on a multi-thousand-acre farm, but supervising a non-family member is foreign to many. Mental health includes better managing different personalities, leading to a decrease in turnover in farm operations.

Through his outreach to rural Minnesota, Matthews is also working to underline the stark difference between mental health and mental illness. By seeking an outside expert, it is not about acknowledging there is a problem, but rather taking an opportunity to improve.

“Every person knows they can do a better job in the marriage, for example. Why not do the things that help you accomplish that?” Matthews said. “The worst thing that could possibly happen is you feel you wasted an hour of your day.”

If you would like to speak with Matthews, you can contact him at 320-266-2390 or tdmatt@info-link.net.

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