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Dairy Farming Mamas: Don’t let mental health be your kryptonite

Heather Moore for Progressive Dairyman Published on 22 January 2019

As farmers, sometimes we think that we can power through without help. We work when we’re hurt; we work when we’re sick; sometimes, we even work when we’re in labor with our fourth child. But we need to know that asking for help doesn’t make us weak. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Like getting a cast on our arm to heal a break, seeing a mental health professional can get us on the road to healing. As my mother-in-law recently told me, “We can’t always be superman.” Don’t let mental health be your kryptonite.

Like many other farms and many other farmers, these past months have been challenging. Milk checks are too short; cull cows aren’t worth the trucking; and bull calves are even worse. It’s been death by 1,000 paper cuts. Add in some life stress, kids, the post-holiday letdown … January is just a tough month. But how do you know if what you’re feeling is something more than just a bad day or a tough month?

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According to the Mayo Clinic, clinical depression, also referred to as major depressive disorder, causes a persistent feeling of sadness or loss of interest in everyday activities, making it difficult or even impossible to complete everyday tasks.

During a depressive episode, symptoms occur most of the day, nearly every day. Symptoms can include:

  • Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, emptiness or hopelessness
  • Angry outbursts, irritability or frustration, often over insignificant issues
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in most or all normal activities
  • Sleep troubles, including insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Tiredness and lack of energy, so even small tasks take extra effort
  • Reduced appetite and weight loss, or increased cravings for food and weight gain
  • Anxiety, agitation or restlessness
  • Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, fixating on past failures or self-blame
  • Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions and remembering things
  • Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts or suicide
  • Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches

Typically, for people experiencing depression, these symptoms cause noticeable issues with day-to-day activities. Producers may not complete more than the bare minimum of chores, or farms may fall into disrepair. Oftentimes, there’s not a definable reason for feeling miserable or unhappy. There may not be a laundry list of reasons for the feelings you are feeling.

If you feel depressed, make an appointment to see your doctor or mental health professional as soon as you can. If you're reluctant to seek treatment, talk to a friend or loved one, any healthcare professional, a faith leader or someone else you trust. Another option is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). If you feel that you may hurt yourself or someone else, call 911 immediately.  end mark

Heather Moore is a dairy farming mama herself, raising three little boys with her husband, Brandon. The Moore family has a 60-cow dairy and custom feeds 800 head of beef cattle near Maquoketa, Iowa. When she is not chasing around cows and kids, you'll find her scooping ice cream and selling cheese in her store, volunteering, cooking and very occasionally, sleeping.

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