Mental health should take center stage in rural communities


May is National Mental Health month. During the last decade, the mental health of America’s farmers and ranchers has become a focus for many.

Recent data highlighting the loss of farms and ranches throughout the United States in the Census of Agriculture from the United States Department of Agriculture should bring particular attention to the stressors in rural communities. To put the national losses in perspective, the U.S. lost an average of 545 farms and ranches a week between 2017 and 2022. Additionally, an average of 77,372 acres a week was removed from food production during that same period.

That data coupled with the recent announcement of the rural index collected by Creighton University suggests rural communities are suffering. The index is an early indicator of the economic health of rural areas across the nation, using a 100-point scale to rate overall community vitality. The April report was the eighth month running in which the index was below 50, or “negative.”

There is an abundance of research regarding the interconnectivity between socioeconomic circumstances and mental health. Farmers and ranchers are not immune to those interconnections. The USDA noted average on-farm income was just below $80,000 annually, with just 43 percent of farms and ranches reporting positive cash flow in 2022.

As spring work continues on farms and ranches throughout the U.S. and operating expenditures begin to come due, remember to check in with local food producers. Be on the lookout for signs and clues that a friend or neighbor may be suffering from additional stressors that may lead to something more serious.

There is no definitive sign that a person is having a mental health crisis. However, there are several signs to consider:

  • Eating or sleeping more or less than usual;
  • Sudden changes in mood or temperament;
  • Withdrawing from people or activities previously enjoyed;
  • Excessive use of alcohol, tobacco, or drugs;
  • Excessive worry or guilt; and/or
  • Expressing suicidal thoughts or a desire to harm themselves or others.

For more information about mental health awareness, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

If you or someone you know needs help, call or text the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.

Pam Lewison is a fourth-generation farmer in Eastern Washington, the Ag Research Director for the Washington Policy Center, and a contributor to Pacific Research Institute.


Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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