I have a great admiration for farmers. They are the unsung heroes of our nation.
On a daily basis, farmers are subjected to unrelenting and multifaceted levels of stress and pressure. Their jobs require hard, physical labor and long days throughout the year. In addition to the physical toll, farmers must also endure and master the fluctuations brought on by adverse weather, market instabilities, government policies and family pressures.
Other occupational hazards include falls, hearing loss or damage, and sun exposure, which can lead to early cataract formation and skin cancers.
All of these amount to a tremendous level of stress; which is why it is not surprising when numbers reveal that farmers have the highest suicide rate of any occupation.
According to a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in July 2016, the suicide rate among people engaged in agriculture (farmers, ranchers, farm laborers, fishers, and lumber harvesters) was the highest among 30 national Standard Occupational Classification groups, at 84.5 per 100,000 persons in 2012.
It is a striking statistic.
And it doesn’t necessarily correlate with age. Senior farmers are still exposed to many of the same health risks as their younger counterparts even after they retire. Because the work is personal and the emotional investment is strong, almost all senior famers remain involved and active on the farm to some extent.
It is a commendable, lifelong commitment that isn’t for the faint of heart. And, if left untreated, sooner or later the demands of the job will have consequences.
When farmers think about health, they often put it on the back burner. For many, their health equates to “the ability to work.” Because of this, farmers often ignore their own health and safety, skipping vaccines such as tetanus and visiting the doctor to stay on top of preventative health measures.
Making health screenings and doctor check-ins a priority can not only help farmers manage the ongoing physical and mental stress of their profession, but it can allow aging famers to remain highly productive during their advanced years.
Senior farmers bring a wealth of knowledge and wisdom to an operation. Simple attention to health and safety, such as wearing hearing protection, sunscreen, sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats can help. Sturdy shoes or boots and a walking stick can also eliminate many trips and falls that lead to on-the-job injuries.
The farming profession is rooted deeply in our region. Thank you to those who endure the daily pressures and stress to give back and bring value to the places we call home.
Wm. Lewis McKay, DO is a family practice physician with OCH Lawrence County Clinic in Mt. Vernon, Mo. He received his medical degree from the Oklahoma State University College of Osteopathic Medicine and is currently a member of the American Osteopathic Association.