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Nationwide News: Family, friends can help farmers cope with stress, anxiety

Issue Date: February 24, 2021

The following information is provided by Nationwide®, the No. 1 farm and ranch insurer in the U.S.*

  • "I don't feel like it."
  • "I'm just tired."
  • "I'm just a little stressed. I'll be fine."

When a farmer or rancher makes a comment like these, it's not always just a passing remark. It might be a sign of a mental or emotional health issue that calls for attention and action.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data prior to the pandemic showing farmers are five times more likely to commit suicide than the general population. Now, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some farmers are experiencing stress and anxiety levels as never before.

Nationwide, the No. 1 insurer of farms and ranches in the U.S., talked with Ted Matthews, psychologist and director of Minnesota Rural Mental Health, to better understand how family members and friends can help.

For many farmers and ranchers, there's a stigma surrounding mental and emotional health care. It's up to family, friends and other loved ones to break down the barrier that stigma creates. It starts with communication.

"The first step and most effective tactic is pretty simple: Shut up and listen," Matthews said. "Look at that person with eyes that care. Don't try to fix anything."

For an independent farmer, sharing highly emotional thoughts and feelings is not easy. Matthews recommends appealing to his or her caring nature in talking about mental health.

"I ask people to say, 'Because I care about you, will you please call him for me?'" Matthews said. "That engages a person's care for others."

In communicating with a farmer or rancher who you feel could be near his or her "breaking point," Matthews recommends the following:

  • Listen, don't hear. It's natural to want to be a "fixer." Often, a solution starts with listening intently and showing you're doing so. "Communication is a two-way street," he said. "Listen, then think about how you respond."
  • Ask questions. This is not only a way to show you're listening, but it also helps someone experiencing severe anxiety to open up and become more engaged in the conversation.
  • Don't jump to conclusions or "dumb down" feelings. "There is nothing more complex in this universe than human emotion, so we always like to dumb it down to whether someone is happy or sad, up or down," Matthews said. "Be open to how someone feels, whether you think they have a good reason to feel stressed or not. Don't ever tell someone they feel a certain way."
  • Encourage self-care. In a time of high anxiety, a stoic, strong mindset can be detrimental. "When I ask farmers what it means to be nice, they rarely ever mention being nice to themselves," Matthews said. "That needs to be a primary thought, but farmers aren't good at that."

Are you dealing with anxiety or depression? Are you concerned for the life of a loved one or friend who may be depressed? Call 800-273-8255 or visit

For more tips and information to help you maintain safety on your farm, visit

*A.M. Best Market Share Report 2019. Nationwide, the Nationwide N and Eagle, and Nationwide is on your side are service marks of Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company. © 2021 Nationwide.

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.

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