Tips to Keep Mentally Sharp

Tips to Keep Mentally Sharp

B Y DA R L A T Y L E R – M C S H E R RY, F O U N D E R , A S K

Darla Tyler-Mcsherry
MSU Billings Student Health Services Director

It’s encouraging to see more attention directed to the health and wellness of farmers and ranchers.  Every day, the men and women in agriculture face significant challenges from many directions—many of which are unpredictable.  The unpredictability of farming can lead to significant stress.  Stress can build, and not handled in a productive manner, can set us up to develop depression.  Left unmanaged or untreated or undiagnosed, depression can put us at risk for suicide.  Here in Montana, the suicide rate has increased a staggering 38% since 1999, in comparison of an average increase of 25% nationwide (staggering in of itself).  Montana has ranked in the top five states for suicide in the past forty years. Research shows that farmers have the highest rate of suicide per occupation.  It’s estimated that 70%-80% of people who take their own lives display warning signs that we miss.  Yet with all of this as a backdrop, I want readers to know we can be effective in saving the lives of our loved ones.

First, we need to learn the signs of suicide, which often are insidious and subtle.  Three areas we need to pay attention to are:  words, mood, and actions.  It’s especially important to respond when we hear the following three topics:  burden, loss of hope, no future.  The person who may be suicidal may talk about being a burden or no longer have purpose.  This may be especially true for an aging farmer or for someone who is sidelined by an injury or illness or for some other reason are no longer able to farm.  It’s also important to respond if we hear someone talk about not having hope.  They may say something such as, “Nothing works” or “I can’t try anymore”.  Another important warning sign is if someone can’t describe a future for himself or herself.  They may not be able to answer if asked something such as, “Tell me what you think about your future” or “This is a hard time for you, how do you see yourself coming out of it”? 

Another warning sign of depression and potential suicide behavior is a person’s mood.  People who are having thoughts of suicide can appear depressed, ashamed, withdrawn, or irritable.  They will pull back and disengage from activities and people they used to enjoy.  On the other hand, it’s also important to recognize a depressed person’s sudden significant mood improvement.  We may be tempted to think that perhaps they have suddenly snapped out of it.  Depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain, and something that cannot be “snapped” out of.  We also may wonder if their antidepressants “kicked in”.  Anti-depressants work most effectively beginning after about 6-8 weeks, and then the mood elevation is gradual.  What is important to realize is they may not be feeling actual happiness, but instead struggling with thoughts of suicide, and have decided to take their own life.  It is not happiness they are displaying, but instead a sense of relief. 

A person’s actions can also provide warning signs of suicide.  Withdrawing from friends, family, social events is important to note.  Notice how much effort they are putting into their health habits and personal hygiene.  How does their farmstead look?  Is it well-maintained or does it look unkept and not how the farmer normally takes care of their machinery, buildings, and grounds?   How do their fields and livestock look?  It’s very difficult to take care of the farm when depression is impacting a person’s ability to think clearly, make good decisions and be productive.  An increased use of alcohol and other drugs can be a sign too.  Are they engaging in behavior they normally wouldn’t?  For example, a normally calm and rational person may display road rage behavior. The signs mentioned in this article are not meant to serve as a complete list of warning signs.  Help is available 24/7.  If you are worried about a loved one, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.  Text “Help” or “MT” to the National Crisis Text Line at 741741.  Take your loved one to the closest emergency room.  Call 911.  TELL them and SHOW them you care, and you want them to LIVE. You don’t have to have all the answers.  You just need to help them get connected to help

2023 Montana Farmers Union Annual Convention

October 27, 2023 - October 28, 2023
Heritage Inn, Great Falls MT