Help Is Available, Just Ask

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UT Extension has professionals to assist farmers in stress. Share any concerns, including those about your own health and safety.

Whether it is commodity prices, the weather, or a host of other issues, farmers are strong and resourceful professionals able to troubleshoot and overcome in ways that have sustained generations. Working efficiently and diligently are two of farmers’ most heralded characteristics. However, the invisible burden shouldered by producers can take a toll.  

Heather Wallace, UT Extension human development specialist and assistant professor of Family and Consumer Sciences notes, “Stress can lead to mistakes and frustration and hinder clever thinking that helps us strategize how to solve problems.”

While discussing dairy trends recently, Wallace noted that one farmer said that he felt like there was “no way through.” He shared that he was able to deal with a downturn in 2009, but simply did not feel as “strong” this time and was even considering ways to “leave his family with life insurance money.” 

These are not uncommon feelings, says Wallace, and they do not occur because of weakness. Thinking in this way is brain-based and a result of the continuous production of cortisol and adrenaline in response to high stress. Wallace adds, “Those at greatest risk are males, particularly veterans, who live in rural areas and work in agriculture.” Additionally, according a a 2016 CDC report, rural male farmers are at a much greater risk of dying from conditions related to prolonged and untreated long-term stress. Wallace notes that while you might not feel like you or someone you care for is in immediate danger, it may be worth reaching out to prevent long-term issues.

“It’s reasonable to worry about who will have to know you’re seeking support,” adds Wallace. “Seek out those who are bound by professional ethics and legal mandates to not disclose your information. There are also resources accessible by phone or computer that you can use in your home.” While being protective of your personal information is understandable, Wallace assures those concerned over their stress levels will find more relief by connecting with others. “The reality is that everyone can relate to being worried and stressed at some point in life,” she said. “It is substanitally better to inform your family members, members of your faith-based community and/or friends who can offer additional support.”

“Put yourself in their shoes. Would you lend a listening ear to a friend in need?” she asks.
Wallace notes that UT Extension has professionals to assist farmers in stress. Simply call or email your local agent and say, “I need to talk about how to better manage things.” Then, share your concerns, including those about your own health and safety.

Wallace adds these suggestions for those who are supporting others under high levels of stress:  
•  You will not cause a person to become depressed or suicidal just by talking about it.
•  While, it’s natural to jump straight to problem solving. Instead, listen more than you talk. 
•  Check back in with that person regularly.
•  Use conversation openers vs. closers (ex. What do you like about farming? vs. Do you like farming?).

• Have resources ready to call. A few that might be helpful are listed below:
Volunteer Behavioral Health- 877-567-6051.
Pathways of Tennessee- 800-587-3854.
Frontier Health- 423-467-3600.
Centerstone Community Mental Health Center- 615-463-6600.
Mental Health Cooperative- 615-726-3340. 
Cherokee Health Systems- 866-231-4477. 
Helen Ross McNabb Center- 865-637-9711. 
Ridgeview Psychiatric Hospital & Center- 865-482-1076.
Professional Counseling Services- 901-476-8967. 
Southeast Mental Health Center- 901-369-1400. 
Quinco Community Mental Health Center- 731-658-6113. 
Carey Counseling Center- 731-641-0626.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration offers these signs on their website of worrisome stress and strain:  
•  Looking for a way to kill oneself, like searching online or buying items to assist suicide.
•  Preoccupation with death.
•  Talking about: (any of these) wanting to die or to kill oneself; feeling hopeless or no reason to live; feeling trapped or in unbearable pain; wanting to sleep and not wake up; and being a burden to others.
•  Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs.
•  Acting anxious/agitated; being reckless.
•  Sleeping too little or too much.
•  Withdrawing or feeling isolated.
•  Showing rage or talking about revenge.
•  Displaying extreme mood swings.
•  Giving away personal items for no apparent reason.
•  Sudden sense of calm and happiness after being extremely depressed.
If you or someone you know needs help, Wallace says now is the time to reach out. Farmer-specific resources can be found online at:

For immediate help text TN to 741741 to connect to the Crisis Text Line and a trained counselor.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline- 1-800-273-TALK (8255) – is a free, 24-hour hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. And in Tennessee, you can call 888.291.HELP (4357) or Chat online (2 p.m. – 2 a.m. Eastern Time):

If you’re with someone in need of help follow these recommendations:
•  Stay with that person until he/she has the help they need. 
•  Ask to make the phone call for him/her.
•  Persuade the person that he/she needs professional help…take that person to the hospital if needed. 

The University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture celebrates 50 years of excellence in providing Real. Life. Solutions. through teaching, discovery and service.



Heather S. Wallace, assistant professor and human development specialist, Department of Family and Consumer Sciences,​