There is no denying that difficult times are upon us. Pork producers have lost vast amounts of equity, the reality of which can easily become overwhelming, making it difficult to see beyond the losses.

Calls to seven Midwestern “Sowing the Seeds of Hope,” crisis hotlines established for farmers and ranchers, have gone up 40 percent over the last several months, says Mike Rosmann, an Iowa farm operator and clinical psychologist who heads up the hotline.

“I know farmers who are alive today because their friends and neighbors knew what to look for and what to do,” says Robert Fetsch, an Extension specialist in human development and family studies at Colorado State University.

Always remember, there is no shame in seeking help; and it’s important to reach out to those in need. Here are some signs to look for:

A Change in Routine or Behavior

A change in behavior can be an indicator of stress or depression, says Randy Weigel, University of Wyoming Extension specialist. Sadness, loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed, change in appetite or weight, difficulty sleeping or oversleeping, physical slowing or agitation, energy loss, difficulty thinking or concentrating and withdrawing from family and friends are all signs of depression.

Stress decreases our ability to cope physiologically and psychologically. You may not even realize you’re suffering from depression because you don’t know what you’re experiencing, Fetsch says. Notice if a person or family stops attending church or no longer stops in at the local coffee shop or feed mill. This change in routine could indicate that something might be wrong.

Also, watch for someone who has been depressed but has a sudden mood change. “There is a point when people appear to be coming out of the depression when they are at the highest suicide risk,” Fetsch says.

Depression does not discriminate. However, suicide takes a greater toll on men, Weigel says. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 3 million to 4 million men in the United States suffer from clinical depression, and the rate is rising.

Many men define themselves by what they do. If a man sells his herd, becomes unemployed, foreclosed on or retires, he may think, “I’m nobody now.” Add to that the fact that many men were raised to be John Wayne-types, taught not to ask for help or show emotion, and that puts them at a greater risk, Weigel says.

Increase in illness or physical ailments

Watch for physical ailments, such as chronic headaches, ulcers, backaches, eating irregularities, sleeping disturbances, frequent sickness or exhaustion.

Severely depressed people may experience more upper-respiratory illnesses, such as colds or flu, or other chronic conditions, such as aches, pains and a persistent cough, Fetsch notes.

A change of appearance

Look for a change of appearance in the person and his/her operation. A person may appear sad, move slowly and have an unkempt look.

If a person no longer takes pride in how his operation looks, it’s a signal that something is wrong, Rosmann says. Are the hogs being taken care of in the usual manner? Has mortality increased? Has there been a change in feed orders or hog marketing patterns?  Is the equipment or building site looking haggard? These are good indicators that something is wrong.

Do the children show signs of stress?

Watch how a child reacts. Often, children will be the “canaries” of the family, providing an early warning, Fetsch says. Particularly with young children, they may act out. Is there a decline in their academic performance or are they increasingly absent from school?

Check their losses

How many major losses (not just financial) has this person suffered? Has there been a death in the family or of a confidant? One loss increases the chance of a major depression by 50 percent, Fetsch says. Two losses move it to 75 percent, and three losses boost it to 100 percent.

Listen for cries for help

Take seriously any cries for help. Giving away a favorite dog or possession, even writing or reviewing a will are such examples.

Listen for statements of hopelessness, such as: “Maybe my family would be better off without me.” “Nothing matters anymore.” “Things will never get better.”

If the person says something that raises the hair on your neck, don’t ignore it. Listen to his or her story, Fetsch says. A last cry means that person hasn’t made up his or her mind yet.

If you are concerned about someone, pay attention to the signs, particularly to any suicidal intent or thinking. A common myth is that you should not talk about suicide with  a depressed person because it might tip the scales. Often, they are relieved to have permission to talk about it, Weigel says.

At worst, an inquiry produces a puzzled look. At best, it can encourage a person to get help.

Take Time to Talk 

If you have reason to be concerned about someone, make an excuse to stop and visit, says Robert Fetsch, family studies’ specialist at Colorado State University.

Say something like: “Joe, how long have we known each other — 22 years? We’ve been friends a long time, and I have to say that I am worried about you. I hear how hopeless you sound. When you say, ‘I’m calling it quits; let’s have a last cigarette together,’ I am afraid that you’re thinking about hurting yourself. Are you? Tell me about it. I have all the time in the world.”

Then listen without judgment. Do not try to cheer the person up. Do not say, “Toughen up, Joe.” Or, “You’ve got to look at the bright side.” Such comments can sound like criticisms, making the person feel worse. Joe may put up roadblocks and stop talking to you.

Instead, Fetsch recommends paraphrasing what you hear. For instance, “Sounds like things have gotten so bad financially that you don’t know what to do next and you think maybe your family would be better off without you. Am I getting it right? What’s going on?”

Urge the person to get professional help. Offer to go along if doing so will help. And, if you think someone is at high risk, take the person to an emergency room or call the police or a suicide hotline.

Help is Available

If you recognize signs of depression or more in a family member, a friend or yourself, call (800) 784-2433 for help and information on local resources.

You also can contact:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255
  • is a good
    resource to find marriage and family
    therapists in your area
  • Farm Resource Center at (800) 851-4719