Methods: Qualitative responses were collected from 28 undergraduate agriculture students in part of a larger project providing mental health training opportunities for undergraduate students in agriculture, as a mechanism for addressing the current farmer suicide crisis. Participants were asked what they consider the biggest challenge and mental health impact of those challenges for workers in their desired occupation. Their responses were qualitatively coded by six independent evaluators.
Findings: At the time of data collection, participants ranged from sophomores to seniors in college (42.85% seniors, 32.14% juniors, 21.42% sophomores, 3.57% unspecified), with twenty-six majoring in Animal Science. In total, twenty-six females and two males participated in the study. Half of all participants were Hispanic. Based on the completion of the General Anxiety Disorder-7 and Patient Health Questionnaire-9, participants reported low to moderate levels of anxiety and depression (anxiety M = 6.57, SD = 5.83; depression M = 5.71, SD = 5.29). A number of themes were identified, including emotional and cognitive reactions, financial stressors, coping skills, professional stressors, academic demands, trauma exposure, and personal stressors.
Conclusions and Implications: Participants reported high levels of stress associated with the demands of work (e.g. “I have seen first-hand how these stressors can cause veterinarians to become burnt out, depressed, or turn to darker options such as drug abuse and suicide threats. If an individual does not know how to properly deal with these emotional issues and how to maintain a healthy emotional balance this can affect every aspect of their life and have some deadly consequences.”) These findings highlight the need for resources that improve coping skills and provide mental health education. Additionally, continuing to learn about the unique challenges agricultural workers face could help develop more individualized programs for this population.