Have you ever had so much to say that you remain silent? Has your mind ever been so heavy that your heart can’t sort it out? I have a feeling many of us could answer a silent ‘yes’ to both questions.
Uncomfortable as this topic is, especially for those of us in rural America, it deserves, even demands, our attention. Folks in rural America—you and I, our peers, neighbors, friends, and family—are dying by suicide at a rate two times greater than American veterans.
It seems if urban America even thinks of us at all, it’s not uncommon for us to be thought of as poor, uneducated souls in need of saving.I’m not brave or bold enough to share all my personal business in a public forum, and I’m not asking you to be either. Yet, politics, policies, and all else aside, I believe in my soul we can do a better job taking care of each other.
My husband and I are in the thick of daily ranch work just like most of you. We are dedicated to what has been built and committed to all yet to be done. We are busy trying to mute the noise of outsiders while getting the most important work done and not overlooking priceless family moments in the process.
I’ve also made the mistake of reading online comment sections on stories related to agricultural hardships, policies, and the like. Don’t do it! What feels like a vast, unscientific majority of those comments prove people in our own backyards are further removed from production agriculture than most of us realize.
I often see folks posting on social media, imploring those who fight against depression, anxiety, and other health issues to reach out. I hope that continues because no one can receive the help they don’t know exists. But, have we forgotten the power of a human connection?
Do we: smile genuinely at the healthy-looking man in the grocery store? Smile empathetically at the tired woman on the street? Call the friends we only ever text and say, “You were on my heart today.”?
As rural gathering places fade away or become influenced by urbanites who think they can solve our troubles, do farmers and ranchers really acknowledge each other?
Life is hard enough even when it’s simple. What if making a point to positively acknowledge others not only improved their well-being but also increased ours? What if the thread your neighbor is hanging on to is the one you offered by shaking hands after church or patting him on the back after borrowing a piece of equipment?
I know firsthand the terrifying grip of depression compounded by the idea that some people are too blessed to experience such darkness. I’ve felt its burden grow heavier with my own inability to accept help. I understand the crushing weight of isolation despite a system of unwavering support.
I also know the solace in a well-timed text and the relief of a friendly voice when my inner self grows dark.
Agriculture has never been an easy way to make a living. Our hearts beat in tune with the land and animals in our care. Our minds weigh the needs of our souls with the demands of our bank accounts. We are often pawns in games we didn’t ask to play, and it can all lead us to fight internally with the senselessness of two old bulls.
Though we bend and stretch to great limits, we aren’t impervious rubber people. We are breakable, which is why I know we can do better for each other.
Some of us are certainly more susceptible to the dangerous depths of depression and despair than others, and few of us are professionally trained to help. But, we all have moments of overwhelming angst or challenges, and we are all capable of being even a little kinder and more forgiving with ourselves and our neighbors.
I pray the long winter days give way to bountiful green grass and a spring crop of healthy calves. Even more, I pray you have the strength to weather it all, and if strength isn’t on your side, I pray you have a friend or loved one with some to spare.
If you or someone you love needs somewhere to turn, please call Avera’s Farmers’ Stress Hotline at 1-800-691-4336, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or reach out to the nation’s leading agricultural health behavioral professional and farmer Dr. Michael Rosman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 712-235-6100.