Abstract: (WITHDRAWN) A Qualitative Analysis of the Perceptions of Mental Health Stressors Among Agriculture Students (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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477P (WITHDRAWN) A Qualitative Analysis of the Perceptions of Mental Health Stressors Among Agriculture Students

Tuesday, January 19, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Olivia Hayes, BSW, Graduate Research Assistant/ Student, Texas State University, San Marcos, TX
Joanna Zumkeller, Student, Texas State University, San Marcos
Olivia Friou, Student, Texas State University, San Marcos
Sebastian Bliss, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow in Trauma Psychology, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, San Antonio, TX
Abby Blankenship, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, San Antonio, TX
Erica Nason, PhD, Assistant Professor, Texas State University, San Marcos, TX
Background and Purpose: Despite high rates of poor mental health functioning and suicide among agriculturalists very little research has been done to understand these experiences for agricultural professionals. Previous research has identified several unique risk factors for psychological distress within this population, including social isolation, economic variables, and environmental factors. Veterinarians, a subset within the agriculture field, show greater vulnerability to mental health, burnout, compassion fatigue, anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation at higher rates than the general population. As the mental health of these populations declines, so does the quality of services, patient satisfaction, and safety. The mental health needs of agriculturalists received increased attention when Senators introduced a bill to address specific stressors experienced by agriculture workers. In addition, the president of the National Farmers Union called for additional research and trainings around mental health stressors to develop and implement resources for agriculture workers. The purpose of this project is to examine the perceptions of mental health issues among agricultural students.

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.