Farm-related stress: Signs and symptoms

During times of economic stress, family and community members can offer one another a great amount of support. Be attentive to signs of stress in farming individuals and families.

The last few months have been difficult for farm families in Michigan. Many are experiencing financial and emotional stress as a result. There are several signs or symptoms when a farm family may be in need of help. These signs can be observed by friends, extended family members, neighbors, milk haulers, veterinarians, clergy persons, school personnel or health and human service workers.

Signs of chronic, prolonged stress:

  • Change in routines. The farmer or farm family stops attending church, drops out of 4-H or no longer stops in at the local coffee shop or feed mill.
  • Care of livestock declines. Cattle may not be cared for in the usual way; they may lose condition, appear gaunt or show signs of neglect or physical abuse.
  • Increase in illness. Farmers or farm family members may experience more upper respiratory illnesses (colds, flu) or other chronic conditions (aches, pains, persistent cough).
  • Increase in farm accidents. The risk of farm accidents increases due to fatigue or loss of ability to concentrate; children may be at risk if there isn’t adequate childcare.
  • Appearance of farmstead declines. The farm family no longer takes pride in the way farm buildings and grounds appear, or no longer have the time to do maintenance work.
  • Children show signs of stress. Farm children may act out, show a decline in academic performance or be increasingly absent from school; they may also show signs of physical abuse or neglect.

When farm families are stressed out for long periods of time –and have chronic, prolonged stress - they may experience a number of signs and symptoms. Watch for the following effects in farm families you see on a day-to-day basis:









Memory loss

"I’m a   failure."




Lack of concentration

"I blew it."



Acting out

Inability to make decisions

"Why can’t   I…?"

Eating irregularities



Sleep disturbances



Frequent sickness

Loss of spirit



Loss of humor



How to refer a person for help:

  • Be aware of the agencies and resources available in your community – what services they offer and what their limitations are.
  • Listen for signs and symptoms that the person or family needs help which you can’t provide, i.e., financial, legal or personal counseling.
  • Assess what agency or community resource would be most appropriate to address the person’s (or family’s) needs.
  • Discuss the referral with the person or family: "It sounds/looks like you are feeling _____. I think _____ could help you deal with your situation."
  • Explore the individual’s or family’s willingness to initiate contact with the community resource: "How do you feel about seeking help from this person/agency?”
  • When the person or family is unwilling to take the initiative or when there is the threat of danger if action is not taken, you should take the initiative to

    -          Call the agency and ask to speak to the intake worker, if there is one.

    -          Identify yourself and your relationship with the person or family.

    -          State what you think the person’s or family’s needs are. For example, they need immediate protection from suicidal acts, an appointment for counseling, financial or legal advice, etc.

    -          State what you think the person’s or family’s needs are. For example, they need immediate protection from suicidal acts, an appointment for counseling, financial or legal advice, etc.

    -          Provide the agency with background information (name, address and phone; age and gender; nature of current problem or crisis; any past history you’re aware of; further information as called for).

    -          Ask the agency what follow-up action they will take: When will they act on the referral? Who will be the person for you to contact later if necessary? What will be the cost of the service (flat fee/sliding scale)? Do you need to do anything else to complete the referral?

    Make sure the person or family and referral agency connect and get together. Make one or more follow-up contacts with the agency if called for by the situation.

    The Social-Emotional work team offers RELAX-Alternative to Anger classes around the state check out the Michigan State University (MSU) Extension website for a class near you.

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