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EDEN's Ready Tips > Posts > Drought Takes a Toll on Mental Health

Feeding cattle in a drought.jpgIt is a creeping disaster. Slowly, the earth loses its moisture. Row crops don’t make it to harvest or their yields are reduced. Livestock have little to no grazing because the forage crops aren’t growing. Hay feeding begins months earlier than normal and becomes a scarce commodity and in some areas, water sources are drying up. Cost to feed livestock is increasing. 

These conditions compound already low commodity received by row crop farmers and reduced cattle prices. Farmers across Alabama and the south were facing some of the most challenging farm financial conditions since the 1980’s before this year’s drought began.

Agriculture-related businesses such as sod farms, nurseries, landscaping, and yard maintenance depend on seasonal weather and moisture to keep their businesses operational. In a drought, rainy day maintenance chores don’t get completed and down time is scarce. As the drought continues, there is less demand for product or services and sales decrease. Workers may be laid off and businesses may even have to close their doors.

All of these things take a toll on people’s mental health. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) lists several warning signs for emotional distress related to drought.

  • Feelings of overwhelming anxiety
  • Constant worrying
  • Trouble sleeping and other depression-like symptoms
  • Disputes between people over limited water supplies
  • Financial concerns related to crop failures, low supply and demand of agricultural-related produces, or rising food prices

Farmers and those in agriculture-related businesses may not acknowledge that the drought is affecting them or their families. Rural residents also may have limited access to mental health providers. Nevertheless, there are actions they can take to reduce their stress.

  1. Acknowledge and talk about feelings with family, friends and neighbors.
  2. Eat healthy and get adequate sleep.
  3. Nurture personal relationships.

If you recognize symptoms of emotional distress in family members or friends, you can help even if you are not a mental health provider. You can be supportive. The following are helpful things to say to someone who has experienced disaster.

  • Ask how someone has been coping. Allow the person to tell his or her story.
  • Let the person know that he/she is having a normal reaction to an abnormal event.
  • Help people understand that everyone copes with stress differently and that there is no one right way to cope with a disaster.
  • Communicate to individuals that they need to take care of themselves in order to be able to help others.
  • Change is huge, but people can find a new normal. It takes time, so help people recognize that they will be able to make steps toward the future and that new normal.
  • Instill hope that there will be better days ahead.
  • Reassure people that it is okay to take help when they need it.

You may also find these resources helpful for coping with drought-related stress, whether for yourself or someone else.


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