Two farmers met one day in the course of their business and one asked the other, " How are you doing?"
"Not well," the other replied and then listed a host of complaints, personal and financial.
"In fact I'm going home and calling it quits," he concluded.
Fortunately the first recognized this as a statement about suicide and was able to talk his friend out of the act and get him some help.
This is a true story, says Robert Fetsch, a human development and family studies professor emeritus from Colorado State University. But it is a story about more than suicide. It's about stress and the dangers it places on our lives.
Fetsch says a farmer told him the story above after he gave a talk on farm operator stress. It's something he has been doing for many years now and often he hears such stories afterward.
The fact is that suicide is four times as high for farmers as the rest of the population, Fetsch says. It is highest in white men over 70.
Risk of injury to livestock operators is higher than any other occupation.
Depression, even without suicide, is a large and likely risk for anyone under the kind of stress livestock operations face these days.
This is important stuff to know, Fetsch says, because even if you never become suicidal, you might have friends who are and who need your help.
Even if you never get depressed you could have friends who become depressed and need your help.
Even if you never get seriously injured by livestock you might have friends who do and this is one more stressor in their lives and they may need your help.
Stress for all
Everyone can be affected by stress, Fetsch says. Certainly livestock producers are a resilient breed of folks but the facts are the facts.
Research has shown that in any given group, for example the readership of this magazine, within five years one-third will be better off, one-third will be about the same, and one-third will be worse off than today as you read this.
Fetsch says the determination which group you fit into will be decided by three things:
- How much "pileup", or problems, you experience.
- How well you use existing and new resources to handle pileup.
- How well you manage your perceptions of those stress factors in your lives.
"Often, our first perception is negative," Fetsch says. "Only later do we see a more positive meaning."
Attitude matters greatly
The good news can be that research by Colorado State University over the years has shown the relationship of stress to depression and stress to income-to-debt ratio and overall financial outlook has as much to do with how we perceive our problems as with the problems themselves, Fetsch says.
A positive attitude and good handling of problems can overcome many of the dangers of stress.
Fetsch adds that "family" is among the first assets listed by nearly all farm family members, yet it can be too easy to miss the signs of stress in family members. Marriage almost always suffers during stressful times and it is common to see increases in the marriage-killing behaviors of defensiveness, criticism, contempt and stonewalling.
Family members under stress may develop more upper-respiratory illnesses or chronic aches and pains, they may drop out of normal activities or show lack of motivation, anger, loss of humor.