Interview with a Row Crop Farm Family

The Stigma-Free Society recently had the pleasure of interviewing Kenneth and Kathryn Mentzer, a row crop farm family based in central Illinois. Their philosophy to farming is based on improving the land they farm on and making a positive impact in their community.

What are some specific challenges that people face in the rural community that impact their mental wellness, particularly in regards to young farmers? Is this something that you and your family have struggled with as well?

Some specific challenges that people face in the rural community are, first of all, the stigma surrounding mental health. Somewhere along the way, farmers became seen as tough as nails, and when they didn’t feel tough they didn’t feel comfortable coming out and saying it. Also, farmers that live in the same community are often in competition with one another. Therefore, they often don’t want to share their struggles for fear it would affect them and their business.

Also, there aren’t a lot of resources out there for young farmer’s mental health. Farming is a high pressure job in many aspects – running large, potentially dangerous equipment, having to grow a business in volatile markets, making large decisions that will affect them the rest of their lives.

Kenneth has definitely felt all of these pressures and it has affected his mental health. He used to experience anxiety and the physical symptoms of it such as palpitations and chest pain. The pressure of taking over the family business takes a significant toll, and often these farmers are starting families at the same time, which contributes to the stress.

When it comes to seeking help for mental health struggles or difficulties coping, what kind of stigma or assumptions exist in the farming community and why might some people feel wary of reaching out for help?

I think there is definitely an expectation for farmers to be tough and not struggle with their feelings. They are expected not to let anything bother them. However, statistics show that many things do bother farmers and with the changing industry, the challenges are getting even harder. I don’t think resources are advertised enough and often the only way people may know to seek help is through the local doctor. Small towns are notorious for spreading gossip like wildfire, and that may deter some from seeking help because they may fear that confidentiality won’t be respected.

What strengths exist within the farming community that are conducive to good mental health?

The strengths that exist include a community that is very like-minded. If a person speaks out about their mental health, others might reach out to them, as they may be having similar feelings. It often takes great courage to take that first step and then you find out you’re not alone. And always, if someone needs help at home or on the farm, rural communities are always good about taking time out of their day to pitch in.

What are some simple steps or suggestions you have for young farmers in terms of reaching out for help and prioritizing mental health?

  1. Farming is often a very demanding job. Taking time daily, weekly, or monthly to consciously do something you enjoy can do wonders for stress. This can include working out, hunting, going out with friends, reading, woodworking, cooking/grilling, etc. Avoid drinking alcohol in excess. The key is to use that time to not think about the stresses of farming and really let yourself wind down.
  2. Avoid spending too much time reading doom and gloom articles on the news and internet. It is definitely good to be informed, but use trusted news sources to get your information and then give yourself time to process that information.
  3. Be very aware of who you follow and how much time you spend on social media. If you are following farming accounts that make you feel jealous, insecure, or cause feelings of anxiety about the success of your own farm, unfollow these people. Instead, choose to follow accounts that build up all farmers and are a source of positivity and togetherness (I really feel strongly about this one!)
  4. Don’t be afraid to get help. If you don’t feel comfortable seeking help in your own community, use the internet. These days there are amazing websites and digital resources that offer counseling and other tools. You can also virtually see a doctor in another town via Zoom or a phone call.

What do you wish you knew about mental wellness and support when you were first starting out as a young farmer?

I wish we had known the pressure that was involved in taking over a family business. I think we knew we wanted to do it, but once it happened it was scary and there always seemed to be bad news. I wish there were better preventative resources out there for young farmers that could be accessed before their mental health took a hit. I also wish there were more sources putting out simple steps and educational strategies like the ones I listed above. For some it seems like second nature to get some fresh air for their mental health, but for others it’s not so easy. Women tend to be better at accessing mental health resources and reading about self-care, but men often don’t have the same exposure. So more resources targeted towards men and their mental health is also important.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with their mental health, visit our Health and Community Resources page for more information and support.