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Tips for managing farm stress from farmer/psychologist Dr. Mike Rosmann: The Spokesman Speaks Podcast, Episode 3

The Spokesman Speaks Podcast

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Welcome to episode 3 of The Spokesman Speaks podcast. Depression, anxiety, suicide - these are tough topics, but it's important that we talk about them, especially as farmers face the pressures of a downturned agricultural economy. In this episode, podcast host Laurie Johns sits down with Iowa farmer and psychologist Dr. Mike Rosmann to talk about ways farmers and their loved ones can recognize and respond to signs of stress in themselves and others.

For more information on this topic, or to ask your own questions directly to Dr. Rosmann, be sure to tune into our free webinar with Dr. Rosmann on January 7, 2019.

Click here to view the transcript +
Narrator: Since 1934, Iowa's farmers have turned to the Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman as their trusted news source. Now The Spokesman Speaks. Listen in, and hear from leading experts on topics important to farmers and agriculture. Now, here's your host, Laurie Johns.

Laurie Johns: Welcome to The Spokesman Speaks. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! This is our December 31st edition of the podcast and we're so glad that you've joined us. We know that this is a wonderful time of year for many of you. We also know that it can bring on stress or loneliness or sadness for some folks. Maybe they've recently lost a loved one or their home life or work life has changed. We know for many farmers times are tough. If you're experiencing a lot of stress right now or you know a friend or a family member who is, we hope that this week's episode of Spokesman Speaks brings you some useful information, tips to find support and comfort. Let's share some time now with Dr. Mike Rosmann, an Iowa farmer and psychologist who specializes in helping farmers and their families work through stress. And like I said, we know there's plenty of that to go around in this current farm economy. I recently visited with Dr. Mike at his home in Harlan. Depression, anxiety, suicide. They're tough topics, but it's important that we talk about them. These issues are affecting farmers. So let's take some time now with Dr. Mike Rosmann. You need to hear this. So we're here with Dr. Mike Rosmann about a very important topic that hits close to home to so many across Iowa and it's time to talk about it. It's time to talk about the need for reaching out and connecting others. It's a sad day to hear and to read that suicide is increasingly or is prevalent in the farming industry. Dr. Rosmann counsels so many folks from all across the state, all across the country, who find themselves in dire straits. Tell me a little bit about this incident. You've been working on this a long time and why it's so near and dear to your heart.

Dr. Rosmann: It's near and dear to my heart because I'm a farmer myself as well as a psychologist and I think I'm a better farmer for being a psychologist and a better psychologist for being a farmer. Suicide has always been a problem with the agricultural population that just hasn't been addressed very much. It was something that I experienced while growing up and seeing people in my community end their lives, unfortunately, in ways that impacted their family and our community directly. I didn't realize that my life would end up being that of a person who tries to deal with farm mental health issues. But as a professor at the University of Virginia, after five years, my wife Marilyn and I made a decision to move to Iowa so we could raise our children on a farm. In doing that I told my graduate students and various faculty members who worked with me in a research project. I said, I'll be leaving at the end of May. They said, where are you going? And I said, we're going to live on a farm in Iowa. Some of them snickered. And they said, why do you want to do that? I didn't know what to think and I just said somebody's got to take care of the mental health of farm people, we're an endangered species. Little did I know, but that ultimately became my purpose and I think it's kind of become my life's purpose because we're shining a light on an area that has been neglected or you couldn't even talk about it. But we've made a lot of progress.

Laurie Johns: Yeah, that not talking about it. You know you see the image of the farmer and it's beautiful idyllic life and it's out in the countryside and they're their own boss and with the beautiful landscape and working with nature and the smiling children and you know, and they'll admit they love the lifestyle, but there's some pressures that come with it and a stoicism often that are so much a part of agriculture, too.

Dr. Rosmann: Exactly. We now know some of the personality characteristics of people who are the most successful in their farming endeavors. And these characteristics include a stalwart capacity to endure great adversity, to hang in there when the going is tough, to rely on our own wits as farm people rather than to feel a need to bring in outside expertise. We rely primarily on our own judgment. We also are high risk takers. Some of these characteristics lead us to be successful farmers, but they can also work against us during times when we need outside help. And one of those characteristics is this stalwartness that you refer to, Laurie. I would say also that not reaching out for help and taking risks often increase during times of stress, which are the times that we need to do the opposite. Bringing a team to help us realize options and to work together to solve problems is absolutely necessary during stressful times.

Laurie Johns: Let's talk about that team. What would be a good start? Because you know, the people who would be listening to our podcast would say, well, I can't really talk to my wife about it. Or maybe she's like, well, my husband doesn't want to hear me complain, or whatever it is. Where does that team, where do they turn to for that team? What would be a good place to start?

Dr. Rosmann: A good place to start often is seeing the family doctor. We farmers know that we need to have good medical care. So we often will talk to medical providers. That doesn't mean we don't talk to other people because we do. We talk to other farmers, we talked to veterinarians, to agronomist. We talk to people who we feel are on our side and they are more like allies than people who may hold loans or people that we feel have expertise that we don't know much about like psychiatrist, psychologist. So we have to destigmatize the reaching out for help and we need to help farmers realize that remaining optimally healthy, in a behavioral sense, as well as a physical sense, contributes to the wellbeing of the farm and likely enhances the productivity of the farm.

Laurie Johns: Are there certain, and I know it's not a simple thing, I would imagine, but are there certain signs to watch out for that could maybe help people along that journey?

Dr. Rosmann: Yes. And I think you hinted at one or two of them already, Laurie. One of the signs is that when we withdraw from society, often that is a sign that we're becoming distressed or depressed. We feel that we're not worthy of going out and we may not enjoy interacting with people, we might have to talk about things. We get scared and we retreat and stay at home. So people who are normally active in community affairs and going to school events or accompanying their children to activities in which they participate. Church. All of those activities are part of our daily lives but when we discontinue them there's something going on. So that is something to look at. Another factor that we need to keep track of is if a person tells us, I don't know why I keep going, there's no use. I have nothing to look forward to. If they haven't smiled or taken pleasure in something over the past two to three weeks, we know that they're pretty depressed because they can't enjoy happiness. I also like to say when we detect somebody withdrawing and we say, how can I help? What's going on? And they say, you can't. I say, well tell me you look like you could cry. Says I would like to cry, but I have this lump in my throat and I can't. That is a pretty good clue that there's a lot being bottled up and we have to develop a team of supporters to help us get through those tough times. That team may involve family members, spouse, parents, adult children, even children who are younger to the extent that they're able to provide assistance. But the team often does include a physician. It might include persons who can help with financial management and with good decision making. That may include the veterinarian and the agronomist and the animal nutritionist and so forth. So we have to build that network and the more people we bring into that network, the better off we are.

Laurie Johns: If you know a neighbor who might, maybe sometimes you see something different around their farm, the physical condition of their farm seems to be changing.

Dr. Rosmann: Well, you're right about that. When we see that the buildings and machinery aren't being maintained, we know that there's probably some economic pressures that are going on so we can reach out and that act of saying, you know, we're all going through tough times. Let me help you. Let's work together on a couple of things. Boy, does that build emotional support. And we used to do that all the time when we farmed together, putting up the hay together and thrashing oats and so forth. Now farming is a whole lot more private except for the telephone. Everybody carries a cell phone, and that's not a bad thing. It is a mixed blessing though because sometimes we hear things on the phone we don't want to hear like a bad market report. But it improves our safety because we can contact others to reach out and it does bring us into contact with people in our network of supporters. We're in a whole new time where we have to use technology to make ourselves better farmers as well as to use knowledge about how we manage ourselves. We know that from research studies now that healthy, behavioral healthy animal caretakers have fewer veterinary visits to their premises. We know that, if they're dairy people, they have lower somatic cell counts in their milk. That says something about the relationship of the behavior of the caretakers to the wellbeing of the livestock. That connection is important to understand because if we're going to improve the circumstance we have to work with the farmer, not just with the animals.

Laurie Johns: And there are even numbers they can call for help.

Dr. Rosmann: One number in Iowa that is especially necessary for us to keep around is the Iowa Concern Hotline. The number is 1-800-447-1985. The hotline was initiated in 1985 during the farm crisis of the 1980s and it has continued its service ever since. It is a place and has people who understand farming, but it's a place that people can call anytime, day or night. And if the issues for which they're calling have to do with farming, they have responders who can help people with how do we build that network? Where can I find the necessary expertise? So, it's a resource that we need to have. And again, it's 1-800-447-1985.

Laurie Johns: Awesome. Great information from Dr. Rosmann. The Iowa Concern Hotline number, let's give that to you again. 800-447-1985. The Iowa Concern Hotline is a free and confidential 24/7 hotline administered by Iowa State University Extension. Like Dr. Rosmann said, the hotline began right in the midst of the 1980s farm crisis. Today the hotline helps connect Iowans with legal education and assistance, financial tips, stress counseling and crisis or disaster assistance. Their staff has an understanding of farming and the unique challenges that farmers face. So give them a call, that number again, 800-447-1985. Remember you don't have to go through this alone. With that, I'm gonna put a bow on this episode of The Spokesman Speaks. We hope you'll join us for the next episode of our podcast on January 14th. Until then, thanks for reading The Spokesman. Thanks for all the great stories and the inspiration and thanks for listening to The Spokesman Speaks. I'm Laurie Johns.

Narrator: Thank you for listening to The Spokesman Speaks, a podcast by Iowa Farm Bureau. Check out more podcasts and articles from The Spokesman at IowaFarmBureau.com/Spokesman. You can also find and subscribe to The Spokesman Speaks podcast in the Apple Podcasts app, Google Play and other popular podcast apps. We appreciate your ratings and reviews and welcome your feedback at podcast@ifbf.org.

About The Spokesman Speaks podcast

Since 1934, The Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman has been Iowa’s leading agriculture news source, and today it is the largest circulation ag newspaper in Iowa. While the Spokesman newspaper is available exclusively to Iowa Farm Bureau members, The Spokesman Speaks podcast is available publicly, reaching farmers on-the-go with stories that matter to them. You can find episodes of the podcast at IowaFarmBureau.com/Spokesman or subscribe and listen in your favorite podcast app, such as Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher or TuneInRadio.

We release new podcast episodes every other Monday. Episode 4 will be released on January 14, 2019.

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