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Release: Oct. 4, 1999

Economic stress can lead to farm injuries; I-CASH specialists urge farmers to seek help

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The fall grain harvest is a hectic period for farmers as they manage time, weather, fuel and equipment issues to get their crops in storage or to market. Adding the economic pressure that many farmers face this year could lead to an increased number of farm accidents or other health problems, say specialists at Iowa's Center for Agricultural Safety and Health (I-CASH).

"Serious economic stress can lead to a number of health problems," said Kelley Donham, D.V.M., professor of occupational and environmental health in the UI College of Public Health and I-CASH director. "Moreover, it puts farmers -- and their families -- at an increased risk for injuries."

UI researchers reported in the Journal of Agromedicine in 1997 that farmers who experienced high economic stress were two to three times more likely to experience a serious injury than farmers not experiencing high stress. Simply put, stress can lead to injuries when farmers are unable to focus clearly on the job at hand. Preoccupation with financial matters can cause anxiety or even a sense of urgency to complete certain tasks. Over time, accidents occur.

Mental health problems also result from long periods of stress, economic or otherwise. However, many farmers and their families are reluctant to talk to psychologists or seek mental health counseling or other services, according to Mike Rosmann, Ph.D., a Harlan, Iowa psychologist and consultant to I-CASH.

"Generally speaking, farmers and their families are resilient people," he said. "They can handle some stress by themselves. When stress multiplies, however, their defenses may be stretched thin and they may need support from professionals."

Often, Rosmann said, stressed farmers and family members turn to other farmers for help. He added, however, that they will reach out to counselors or other professionals who understand farming. "It's especially helpful when the professionals understand the pressures that accompany agriculture," he said.

Resources are available for farm families who need help today. The Iowa Concern Hotline has information about professional services available to farmers in a variety of areas, such as mental health assistance, financial and legal advice, and help for farm children with health concerns. The Iowa Concern Hotline can be reached anytime, day or night, at (800) 447-1985.

I-CASH is a partnership of the UI, ISU, the Iowa Department of Public Health and the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. Based at the UI, its key objective is to help reduce illnesses and injuries among Iowa's agricultural population.