Pastors, Extension help with stress Is stress starting to get the upper hand in your life? If it is, getting help should be the first order of business, according to Richard Jameson, a west Tennessee cotton producer who watched his life unravel during the last three years of the farm crisis, but got help before it was too late.

Jameson notes that a big hurdle for a farmer is to admit that he's suffering from stress. "We like our independence, our self sufficiency. It's almost like an admission of a weakness in you. It takes a certain amount of humility to admit it. And it's a private thing."

On the other hand, some level of mental stress seems inevitable because farmers have little or no control over the mounting adversities of farming, low prices, drought, high costs, labor problems, politics, etc. If things get better, perhaps stress will go away. But what if things don't turn around Are you prepared for what lies ahead?

Jameson notes that if a farmer won't get help for himself, he should consider the toll that his stress is having on the family. "A lot of time the so-called canary in the coal mine is the wife. She knows her spouse. And she knows something is wrong.

"I remember many days when my wife, Jane, would sit across the breakfast table and hold my hand," the Brownsville, Tenn., farmer said. "I guess I was just getting enough courage together to walk out the door, get in the truck and drive out to the farm."

The two oldest of Jameson's four girls "probably noticed what was going on. In the morning, when we were getting ready to go to school and work, they would come in, they would be doing the little things that girls do at breakfast, talking and everything. But I didn't want to be at the table with them. It wasn't them. It was the social aspect of the family eating breakfast. I couldn't even handle that."

Thanks to counseling, medication, his faith and some changes in attitude, Jameson is on the road to recovery today. As his ability to cope returned, the farmer began to realize that there were probably other farmers out there suffering from stress or depression.

With that in mind, Jameson set out to help educate the west Tennessee community on the farm crisis, making pastors, bankers, farm suppliers and others aware of the depth of the farm crisis and the impact that it may have on the mental health of farmers.

He began with his pastor at First United Methodist in Brownsville, Stan Waldon. They began to mobilize other Methodists in the area.

They also involved Mike Campbell, director of pastoral ministries for the west Tennessee division of Methodist LeBonheur Health Care.

Campbell developed a second series of meetings with pastors "in which we talked about specific ways they could initiate pastoral presence with these farmers and their families," Campbell said. "I did continuing education with them on what depression was, how it manifests. I also talked to a group of Baptist ministers in Fayette County (who have also mobilized to help farmers).

Campbell stresses that pastors "certainly do not want violate privacy. But we talked about strategies where we just made ourselves available. We talked about offering prayers for alleviating the drought from the pulpit and we looked for ways to address that in sermons.

"Our strategy was very specific. Make yourself available without imposing a counseling atmosphere."

Jameson also worked with Chuck Danehower, Extension area specialist, farm management, at the University of Tennessee Cooperative Extension Service in Ripley. Danehower also understood that farmers generally are not going to seek help. So, they came up with some new ways to reach farmers.

"In Dyer County, we had a big crop production meeting, and we also had a program on stress. Later, Mike Cambell participated in a panel discussion on managing stress at a grain conference we had.

"Last March, we had someone from the Farm Resource Center come down and conduct a meeting. We had ministers, Extension, people from lending institutions and farm suppliers - mostly people who come in contact with farmers."

Danehower noted that Extension employees have been designated in each district to respond to farmer calls. They can be reached through a west Tennessee hotline (800-345-0561). "They're not counselors, but they would be a first line that could help farmers decide where to go from there. Also, if the farmer doesn't want to talk to someone locally, he can ask to speak to someone outside his district."

The farmer can remain anonymous during the call if he prefers.

At this time, the University of Tennessee is the only Delta state to have set up a stress hotline. However, farmers in other states can call the Extension economics departments in their states to be referred to financial or stress counselors.

If mental stress has not reached a critical stage or perhaps counseling is not the direction a farmer wants to take, he might consider a couple of lifestyle changes.

"Farmers are used to being alone," Campbell said. "They work in remote fields and don't work with as many people as the rest of us in the city. The farmer is isolated by nature of his job, and depression or stress could isolate him further.

"One suggestion would be to spend time in social engagements with other people besides your family - another couple, somebody at the church, with friends who are not farmers. Get away from the preoccupation you have with the crop. Be sure you're connected socially. Broaden your interests. Take an interest in your kids. Do something with them."

You should also pay close attention to your physical well-being. "Farmers probably think they work hard enough that they don't need exercise. But there's a difference between what you do for exercise and work. Some type of exercise or recreational sport is very helpful."

Campbell notes that for some farmers, the farm crisis will almost certainly end in failure. "But don't think of it as the end," he said. "Think of it as an opportunity."

The Extension Service and pastors in west Tennessee can also help a farmer through this difficult phase, notes Campbell, through referrals to vocational training and counseling. He says many farmers sell themselves short on the skills they've developed while farming. "A lot of these farmers have good educational, managerial and marketing skills."

On the other hand, leaving the farm, especially when the farmer is sitting on land that has been in the family for several generations, can be extremely difficult. "And that sense of failure has a whole different context to it," Campbell said. "When you lose the family's land or you have to sell it, that's a devastating thing."

Campbell says counseling can help the farmer leave the farm "with dignity and grace, even the family farm. Farmers need to understand that theirs aren't the only businesses that fail. Other people fail at business all the time and that they pick up and move on.

"Once you get past the sense that you can give it up, you may discover that there's been something out there that you always wanted to do," Campbell said. "So how do you get there? Start with your pastor. He may or may not be the person you need to talk to, but he has access to resources that can help you. You may end up with a better job and a happier job than the one you had before."

No matter where you stand in the farm crisis, think of a counselor as a mental health consultant, said Campbell.

"We all have consultants for a lot of things we do in our lives - banking consultants, medical, farm consultants. Counselors are just part of the team. I think farmers will begin to see remarkable opportunities once they start talking to these people."

Clinical depression - A persistent sad, anxious or "empty" mood

- Sleeping too much or too little, middle of the night or early morning waking.

- Reduced appetite and weight loss or increased appetite and weight gain

- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities

- Irritability, restlessness

- Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment (such as chronic pain or digestive disorders)

- Difficulty in concentrating, remembering, or making decisions

- Fatigue or loss of energy

- Feeling guilty, hopeless, or worthless

- Thoughts of death or suicide

Symptoms of stress - Feel sad, moody, lonely

- Have trouble sleeping

- Eat a lot more/less than usual

- Sudden flashes of anger, let little things bother you

- Physical symptoms, headaches, unexplained back pain, more colds than usual

- Have trouble thinking as clearly as you usually do

- Feel tired for no good reason

Symptoms of anxiety Physical - Palpitations or accelerated heart rate

- Shortness of breath or smothering sensations

- Sweating or cold, clammy hands

- Dry mouth

- Dizziness or lightheadedness

- Nausea, diarrhea, or other abdominal distress

- Flushes (hot flashes) or chills

- Frequent urination

- Trouble swallowing or lump in throat

Tension - Restlessness

- Trembling, twitching, or feeling shaky

- Muscle tension, aches, or soreness

- Easily fatigued

Emotional - Excessive worry

- Difficulty concentrating or "mind going blank" because of anxiety

- Feeling keyed up or on edge

- Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep

- Irritability

Don't suffer in silence. Knowing when to seek help is a strength, not a weakness.