Consequences of Stress

Many authors have pointed out the impact that severe stress and stressors have on the physical health of farmers. For example, in a sample of North Dakota farmers, Eberhardt and Pooyan (23) found that increased time pressures—the experience of having too much to do and too little time in which to do it—were significantly related to increased episodes of physical illness during the previous 2 years.

In regard to farm-related injuries and death, it has been estimated that 10% of agricultural workers experience a disabling injury every year and that nearly half of all survivors of farm trauma are permanently impaired. Moreover, according to the National Safety Council, agriculture has consistently ranked second to mining in the number of work-related fatalities in the United States over the past 20 years. For example, for the year 2003, the fatality rate for agriculture was 20.9 out of 100,000 workers. In comparison, the fatality rate for mining was 22.3 and the fatality rate for all work-related deaths was 1.5 (24,25).

The cognitive and physiological features of stress increase the risk for farm-related accidents. These include the diminished ability to concentrate on tasks, impaired decision making, carelessness, weakened immune system functioning, fatigue, direct physiological responses such as shakiness in the hands, and chronic strain and consequent physical effects such as back pain.

Several studies have found that stress is indeed associated with farm injuries. For example, Thu et al. (26) discovered that Iowa farmers who reported high stress levels were 3.5 times more likely to have experienced a disabling farm injury than were farmers without high stress levels. Reis and Elkind (27) found that farm families in eastern Washington State consistently reported stress as the fundamental cause of farm injury and that they readily perceived the potential harmfulness and daily risks of their occupation.

Stueland et al. (28) examined predictors of injuries in farmer women in central Wisconsin and discovered that the total number of hours worked significantly predicted the occurrence of injuries, with most injuries occurring in the barn. Many of these women had assumed increasing responsibilities in farm work as their husbands sought higher paying work off the farm, thus increasing the women's chance for injuries. Changing role responsibilities thus appeared to have an indirect effect on farm injuries.

Swanson et al. (29) found that farm injuries in children, in combination with economic stressors, greatly increased the stress experienced by farm families. Similarly, Linn and Husaini (30) found that the number of chronic medical problems, in association with ineffective social support, significantly predicted depression in Tennessee farmers. Such findings point to a cycle of stress and injury that becomes circular. Stress itself may lead to illness and injury. However, once illness or injuries occur, these physical problems themselves become stressors, leading to more stress and an even higher risk for illness and injury. Acute or chronic physical problems can layer themselves on top of other stressors to exacerbate an already stressful picture. Interestingly, farmers often coped by passively waiting until their problems went away.

Carruth and Logan (7) examined predictors of depression in women farmers in southeast Louisiana. Odds ratios indicated that those women who experienced poor health were eight times more likely to experience depressive symptoms than were women with good health; those with long-term exposure to perceived hazards such as pesticides and tractor use were six times more likely to experience depression; those who had recently experienced farm-related injuries were 2.5 times more likely; those who had been engaged in farming for over 20 years were 1.5 times more likely; and those who were divorced were five times more likely. The authors concluded that farmer women are at particularly high risk for depression due to their juggling of a multitude of farm and family responsibilities. These responsibilities add to feelings of isolation and loneliness in creating a depressive outlook.

Although several of the above studies focused on depression, there is much evidence that depression and anxiety often coexist. Thus it can be argued that farmers who experience severe stress are also at risk for anxiety disorders (31).

For some farmers, severe stress and depression in farm workers may lead to an increased risk for suicide. Gunderson et al. (8) studied suicide rates for the period of 1980 to 1988 among farmers in Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana. The suicide rate for farmers was 48.1 per 100,000 individuals. This rate is more than twice as high as the overall suicide rate for adults in the United States. Firearms and poisoning by gas were the most preferred methods of suicide. The authors attributed the elevated suicide risk in farmers to geographical and social isolation, medical under-utilization, chronic diseases, disabling injuries, pesticide use and consequent depression, and access to lethal methods.

Stallones (32) compared suicide rates among farmer men in Kentucky, nonfarmer men in Kentucky, and men in the United States for the period of 1979 to 1985. Farmers had a higher suicide rate (42.2/100,000) in comparison to nonfarmers in Kentucky (30.1/100,000) and men in the United States (19.2/100,000). Stallones conjectured that hazardous work environments; increasing social and geographical isolation due to the ongoing decrease of rural residents; the changing economic environment in agriculture, including unemployment and the decreased ability to run heavy equipment required by increased mechanization on farms; and the lack of emergency medical care and mental health services in rural areas contribute to suicide risk in farmers.

0 0

Post a comment