Drought Causes Stress Among Farmers, Ranchers, Rural Residents

Drought causes not only financial stress for many families, it also causes emotional stress. Bob Fetsch, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension family life specialist, suggests several strategies that can help people deal with stress.

"This summer has been particularly stressful for farmers, ranchers and rural community members," Fetsch said. "It’s difficult to remember that how one chooses to think about what is happening is ultimately the most important factor in surviving stressful times while keeping physical and mental health intact."

Anger, depression, frustration, a sense of loss and other emotions are normal during economic hardship, said Fetsch. He recommends looking for the following signs of stress, depression and suicidal intent.

Signs of stress:

  • Change in routines. For example, an individual or family drops out of groups, stops attending community functions, etc.
  • Livestock care declines. Cattle and other farm animals may not be cared for in the usual way and may show signs of neglect or physical abuse.
  • More frequent illnesses. More colds, flu or chronic conditions such as aches, pain and persistent cough may be signs of stress.
  • Increase in farm or ranch accidents. The risk of farm accidents increases because of fatigue or loss of ability to concentrate.
  • Appearance of farmstead declines. The family no longer takes pride in the way farm buildings and grounds appear or no longer have time to do maintenance work.
  • Children show signs of stress. Children may become more aggressive, their academic performance may decline or they may be increasingly absent from school. They also may show signs of physical abuse or neglect.
  • Symptoms of chronic, prolonged stress. Some traits such as irritability, backbiting, anxiety, loss of humor, alcoholism, violence, withdrawal, memory loss and an inability to make decisions are signs of chronic stress.

Signs of depression:

People who are experiencing depression may exhibit the following signs or symptoms.

  • Change in appearance. Sad face, slow movements and an unkempt look.
  • Unhappy feelings. Feeling sad, hopeless, discouraged, and listless.
  • Negative thoughts. "I’m a failure," "I’m no good," "No one cares."
  • Reduced activity and pleasure in usual activities. May feel that doing anything is just too much effort.
  • Problems relating to others. May withdraw from others or feel lonely.
  • Physical changes. May experience trouble sleeping, headaches, decreased sexual interest.
  • Guilt and low self-esteem. Feeling that they are personally at fault or that they should be punished.

Signs of Suicidal Intent:

People who are considering suicide may exhibit the following signs or symptoms.

  • Anxiety or depression. Severe, intense feelings of anxiety or depression.
  • Withdrawal or isolation. Withdrawn, alone, lack of friends and support.
  • Helpless and hopeless. Sense of complete powerlessness, a hopeless feeling.
  • Alcohol abuse. Alcoholism and suicide are often linked.
  • Previous suicidal attempts. Previous suicide attempts may have ranged from low to high in lethal intent.
  • Suicidal plan. Frequent or constant thoughts with a specific plan in mind.
  • Cries for help. Making a will, giving possessions away, making statements such as "I’m calling it quits," or "Maybe my family would be better off without me."

Fetsch recommends becoming familiar with agencies and resources available within communities that can help individuals address depression and stress. A list of hotlines, mental health agencies and professionals are available in the yellow pages and on the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension drought Web site at www.drought.colostate.edu under "Tough Times for Farm and Ranch Families."