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Mental health researchers focus on farm youth stressors and resources
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Mental health researchers focus on farm youth stressors and resources

RICHMOND—Farm youth are not immune to the stressors that impact the mental health of their adult counterparts.

This is concerning to researchers, as statistics show farmers experience worse mental health than the general population. Farm youth have been overlooked as much of the mental health research, resources and services have focused mostly on adults.

A webinar presented by AgrAbility explored the status of farm youth mental health, the unique causes of stress among young people living in farming and rural communities, and available resources.

Josie M. Rudolphi is an assistant professor and Extension specialist in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She seeks to ease the burden of mental health conditions among agricultural populations.

“Agriculture is a uniquely stressful industry,” Rudolphi said. “We are highly susceptible to sudden and unfavorable changes in weather, markets or the economy. We know this work is nonstop and all-consuming. Producers face a lot of time pressure. And as romantic as the idea can be—working with family for several generations—it causes strain and stress for some people in that space.”

Farmer mental health is typically marked by a higher prevalence of anxiety, depression and, in some populations, a higher suicide risk. Almost 2 million U.S. youth are exposed to the strain of farm production stressors.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have the same body of research and resources for them that we have for adult producers,” Rudolphi continued.

Jana Davidson is program manager with the Progressive Agriculture Foundation that is leading efforts to reach more farm children, families and communities throughout North America to address their ongoing needs.

“No one was really focusing on our farm and rural youth, and that’s where we stepped in,” she said.

PAF’s findings identified that the complications that stress adults also impact farm youth—financial commodity prices, long hours and pressure to complete tasks.

“And negative interactions with those disconnected from agriculture,” Davidson added. “Some children find themselves having to defend their family’s way of life to others.”

Youth also struggle with pressure to carry on farming traditions and lack of extracurricular activities due to farm responsibilities.

“We are grateful to see farm youth included in these discussions,” said Dana Fisher, chair of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Safety Advisory Committee. “Every effort to support children and teens on farm settings is a huge leap in breaking down stigma surrounding mental health.”

See resources discussed in this webinar at agrability.org/online-training/farm-youth-and-stress.

Media: Contact Rudolphi at 217-300-8833; PAF at 888-257-3529, ext. 706; or Fisher at 540-975-1849.

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