Prevention tools
Tool 1

Mental Health Challenges and Stigma Reduction


The World Health Organisation (WHO) has stated that “mental health is more than the absence of mental disorders” and views it as being an “integral part of health; indeed, there is no health without mental health”. The WHO Constitution states that “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” This implies that mental health is more than just the absence of mental disorders or disabilities. It is an integral and essential component of health.

The WHO defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”

Therefore, mental health is determined by a range of socioeconomic, biological, and environmental factors.

This module will provide general information on three of the most common mental health challenges such as depression, stress, and anxiety, as well as how to deal with stigma and recovery.

It’s important to promote a culture of openness and support around mental health in the farming community. Encouraging farmers to prioritize their mental health and wellbeing, to build social connections and networks are all crucial steps in addressing stress, anxiety, and poor mental health outcomes among farmers.

ATTENTION: FARMRes resources are intended to provide general information and are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.


Depression is a mental health challenge that involves having a low mood or losing interest and enjoyment in your work, activities, and other things that you normally enjoy. It can also bring about other changes to how you think, feel, or behave.

It is important to note that the signs you may experience can vary.  Additionally, how intense these feelings are, how long they last, and how much you are affected by them in your daily life can vary.

With what is termed as mild depression you might have a low mood but nonetheless be able to still carry on with your daily farming life and work routine. The feeling may very well be that everything feels much harder, less worthwhile, and difficult to do. It all feels like a struggle, it can be understandably easy for us farmers to feel overwhelmed, stressed, and anxious. The following section will explore with you how struggles in farming can undermine good mental health and how to address the misplaced stigma that surrounds mental health challenges.

Low mood  and  depression

Any one of us can have moments in times when our mood is low. We feel sad, or just pure fed up. Often these feelings occur and pass on in time. There is a reason behind such a low mood and when sorted life goes on.

However, it can become depression if the feelings become so bad and overwhelming that these feelings interfere with your daily life and if they last for several weeks or months. There are many signs of depression, and everyone’s experience will vary.

How you might feel:

  • Down, upset, or tearful.
  • Restless, agitated, or irritable.
  • Guilty, worthless, and down on yourself.
  • Isolated and unable to relate to other people.
  • Angry or frustrated over minor things.
  • No self-confidence or self-esteem.
  • Hopeless and despairing.
  • Feeling tired all the time.

How you might act:

  • Avoiding social events and activities you usually enjoy.
  • Self-harming or suicidal behavior.
  • Difficulty speaking, thinking clearly, or making decisions.
  • Losing interest in sex.
  • Difficulty remembering or concentrating on things.
  • Using more tobacco, alcohol, or other drugs than usual.
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much.
  • No appetite and losing weight or eating more than usual and gaining weight.
  • Physical aches and pains with no obvious physical cause.

Take a look at this Success Story to understand it better: George Graham

Farming is a work occupation, and most farmers’ place of work is usually set around the family home, which means they are never far removed from their work environment. In these circumstances it is difficult for the farmer to get away from the workload.

Farming brings its own unique stressors that include familiar factors, long working hours, financial pressures, climate matters, compliance with regulations.  Also, at a personal level, family relationships or daily social isolation also impacts a famer’s daily work routine. Additionally, there are external events that they have little or no control over from inflationary matters, volatile climate patterns, natural disasters to international events, such as the war in Ukraine and its many impacts on commodities that farmers are dependent on such as oil and grain prices animal feed and fertilizers.

What is Stress?

Stress can be defined as any form of change that causes physical, emotional mental strain. It is the body’s response to anything that requires immediate attention or action. Being aware of the way you respond to stress can make a significant difference to your mental health and wellbeing.

Essentially, stress is our body’s response to pressures from a situation or life event. Stress is a natural response to challenging situations or life events, and many of which have been identified in the introduction, are necessary. It is when stress becomes overwhelming when it will affect a person’s ability to cope. It can be overwhelming and leave you feeling that you have little or no control over the situation, tired, exhausted, drained and in a low mood. Stress can affect a person both physically and emotionally, and with varying intensities.

Research has shown that it can be positive as it makes a person more alert and motivates a person to perform better in certain situations. However, stress has only been found to be beneficial if it is short-lived. Excessive or prolonged stress can lead to potential illness such as heart disease and mental health challenges such as anxiety and depression. It is also linked to many farm accidents, which are caused due to working under stressful situations.

Anxiety is one of the most common mental health challenges around the world.

Everyone has feelings of anxiety at some point in their lives. It is normal to experience anxiety in everyday situations. A low level of anxiety, as with stress, is not entirely negative. However, persistent, and excessive anxiety can be distressing and may point towards more serious issues leading, for example, to depression.

What is anxiety?

The word ‘anxiety’ tends to be used to describe worry, or when fear is nagging and persists over time. Anxiety is a type of fear usually associated with a perceived threat or something going wrong in the future, but it can also arise from something happening right now. Unlike fear itself, which is a response to an immediate danger, anxiety is an ongoing sense of worry, sometimes without a specific cause. Anxiety happens when you become overwhelmed by fear and want to avoid situations that might make you anxious.

It can be hard to break this cycle, but there are lots of positive ways to cope so it doesn’t stop you from living a full life. For many, the feelings of anxiety will pass as quickly as they came, but for others they can be prolonged and more serious issues.

Anxiety signs can last for a long time or come and go. You might find you have difficulty with day-to-day parts of your life, including:

  • Looking after yourself.
  • Holding down a job.
  • Forming or maintaining relationships.
  • Trying new things.
  • Simply enjoying your leisure time.

Anxiety can make farming particularly difficult and challenging due to feeling what has been described as very intense, frequent, and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. Such ongoing persistent feelings will impact and interfere with regular daily routine farming workloads.

Some of the most common signs of anxiety include:

  • Excessive fear and worry.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Muscle tension.
  • Nausea
  • Irregular heartbeat.
  • Difficulty sleeping.

The stigma associated with mental health challenges in the farming community is complex and significant. It stems from a combination of cultural, economic, and social factors that contribute to a unique set of challenges faced by farmers which contribute to avoidance of farmers talking about their mental health challenges. Such stigma can be viewed though the following core issues impacting on farmers.

Historical stigma and tradition: Traditionally, farming has been seen as a tough, resilient occupation where mental and physical strength are highly valued. Such a historical perspective can perpetuate the idea that admitting to mental health challenges is antithetical to the identity of a farmer.

Traditional male stereotypes: There can be a prevailing sense of sexism in farming communities, where emotional vulnerability is often viewed as a sign of weakness. This can create a reluctance to discuss or acknowledge mental health challenges and or personal struggles.

Rural culture and self-reliance: Farming communities often have a strong sense of self-reliance and independence. Mental health issues can be viewed as a sign of weakness or a failure to cope with the demands of the lifestyle. This cultural norm can discourage farmers from seeking help.

Isolation and loneliness: Farming can be an isolation occupation, due to the long hours associated with farming practices. This isolation can lead to feelings of loneliness and exacerbate existing mental health challenges. The lack of social interaction can also make it difficult for farmers to recognize when they or their peers are struggling.

Uncertainty and financial pressures: Farming by its nature, as previously noted, tends to be highly unpredictable. The fluctuating circumstances as previously noted debts can lead to significant levels of stress and anxiety. Seeking help for mental health challenges due to such precarious circumstances may seem like another burden and one to be avoided.

Lack of access to services: Lack of accessible mental health services can make it challenging for farmers to get the appropriate help they need at times of crises. Rural areas often have limited access to mental health resources compared to urban areas. There might be fewer mental health professionals, treatment facilities, and support groups available.

Lack of awareness and education: In some cases, there may be limited awareness and understanding of mental health issues within farming communities. This lack of education can lead to misconceptions and a failure to recognize when help is needed. Addressing the stigma associated with mental health in farming communities requires a multi-faceted approach.

Addressing stigma and mental health challenges

By addressing these factors, it is possible to reduce the stigma associated with mental health in farming.  through the provision of:

Education and awareness: Providing education about mental health, its prevalence, and the resources available is crucial. This can help break down misconceptions and encourage open conversations.

Supportive networks:  Encourage farmers to connect and support one another and in doing so this will help combat the isolation and loneliness.

Promoting resilience and coping strategies: Teaching farmers effective coping mechanisms for dealing with stress and uncertainty is important for maintaining good mental health.

Championing mental health advocacy: Influential figures and farm leaders and role models, can play a significant role in reducing stigma by openly discussing mental health challenges.

What steps can be taken in the topic to achieve the five ways to well-being.
Simple examples of behavior suitable for farmers


Social interaction and feeling valued by other people are fundamental human needs. It can be difficult to form regular social connections outside of farm life, so it may be necessary to make time to get out to socialize that best suit your needs.

A couple of suggestions include arranging to go for a cup of tea, a walk, and a chat with a    neighbor, perhaps consider volunteering in your local community which is an excellent way of networking.

Be Active 

Make physical activity a regular habit, as it can be a game changer in lifting your mood from a low spot to a better place. Regular physical activity is associated with lower rates of depression, stress, and anxiety. It promotes both physical and mental health and wellbeing.

One useful way in terms of farming is to consider abandoning the quad occasionally and get in a swift walk. It is well established that planned exercise releases endorphins that can make a person feel more alert, more energized, and able to cope with challenges. Another suggestion is to create off-farm activities, such as joining a cycle club, joining a football team, seek out indoor activities that are organized by local sports clubs.

Take Notice 

Take notice of how you are feeling both physically and mentally. When a farmer is busy there is a risk of physical and mental overload creating a risk of exhaustion and burnout. The most practical thing to do to reduce such clutter, stop, pause, collect your thoughts by being aware of the generous nature around you, the sound of animals grazing, birds, the beauty of the trees that line your land – giving yourself these few random moments of self-care can help you feel calm and in control.

Keep Learning 

Being interested in all sorts of matters on and off the farm is good for the mind and body. Learning about new ways of farming keeps you motivated and active.

It is important for self-esteem to embrace new opportunities and experiences. Check out local Adult Education Programs and see what they have on offer. Joining adult classes also provides the opportunity to develop new friends and to socialize.

Local libraries offer a wealth of information and offer community talks on all kinds of matters. Avail of online learning opportunities


Give and giving while important and beneficial as they can make you feel better with the acknowledgment and sharing of gratitude. It is very commendable when your time, words, and deeds benefit others. It is like an emotional endorphin that creates positive feelings and energizes you. It can be connecting with a neighbor that is struggling, listening, and offering the hand of friendship.

However, allow yourself self-care and compassion. Take a moment out, pause to think about your own needs and give yourself some personal quality time. It is not a selfish thing to do.