Camp Hand is an Extension Specialist at UGA who has been a big champion of talking about farmer stress and stress management. Today I’m posting a Q&A I had with Camp this week, where he talks candidly about his own actions in overcoming stress and emotional distress.

A: Hi Camp. Thank you so much for doing this!  Can you start you by telling us a little bit about yourself—where you’re from, how you got interested in agriculture, what you do now with Extension?

C: I’m a native of a small town in Mississippi called Bolton. My family moved to Jonesboro, AR when I was 5, and when I was entering high school we moved to Auburn, AL. I graduated high school there, graduated with my B.S. and M.S. there, and spent most of my formative years there. I moved to Tifton in January 2018 to start my PhD under the direction of Dr. Stanley Culpepper and decided to stick around once I got done!

Farming is in my blood. My paternal grandfather managed a farmer’s cooperative in MS, and two of my great-grandfathers farmed. I grew up spending a week in the summertime with my Papaw; that’s what really sparked my interest in agriculture. Later I was a student worker with a soybean agronomist at Auburn, and saw what Extension was and how he helped growers, and it sparked my interest in doing research based on grower needs and trying to help people as much as possible.

Now I am a Cotton Agronomist at UGA based out of Tifton. I get to do all kinds of neat stuff like evaluating varieties, studying growth management, defoliation, fiber quality, and lots of other stuff. Each day is different and that is what I love about my job.

A: You have been a big supporter for the Extension farmer stress and wellbeing initiative. Do you see stress as a big issue in farming—what have you seen in your work that leads you to think this?

C:  I absolutely see stress as a big issue in farming, and I honestly don’t know how our growers do what they do. I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night! Normally, when I show up on someone’s farm, something has gone wrong, so of course the grower is stressed when I show up. But, I would say there is always a sense of stress in farming because so many things are out of our growers’ control and so many things can go wrong. But if farming were easy, I imagine everyone would be standing in line to do it. Farmers are the toughest and most resilient group of people I know.

A:  You’ve also told me that the topic of stress resonates with you personally. Can you tell us a little about that?

C:  Absolutely, I am an open book! When I was working on my Masters’ degree at Auburn, I noticed that I was having a hard time getting motivated to do much of anything. It was hard to wake up in the morning, I didn’t really want to leave the house, and honestly if it wasn’t for my dog Scout, there probably would’ve been a lot of days I wouldn’t have gotten out of the bed. I talked to a great friend (who just so happened to be my pastor) about this and he said just to monitor these feelings and see if something changes in the next few weeks. At the time, I was training my dog to retrieve birds, and it was absolutely one of my favorite things to do. One day, I was trying to decide if I was going to train her, and thought to myself about how I didn’t want to that day. That is when I realized that I was struggling with some depression, because the things that were fun to me were not appealing anymore.

I called my friend again, and he pointed me to a therapist who was also a member at our church and I had known for a long time. I began therapy once a week and visited with my physician about getting on some medication.  Once we got the medication figured out (that was more complicated that I thought) and I got into the therapy sessions it definitely began to help. I told some of my close friends and family about all of this and they were extremely supportive of all the steps I had taken. After a few months of visiting with my therapist, I felt like I had some better tools to help manage my emotions so that there weren’t as many extremes.  At the time I was preparing to get married and make the move to Tifton, and going through this process prior to making those big steps in my life helped me all tremendously.

A:  Given your experience, what advice do you have for a farmer who may be struggling with high stress, or depression or anxiety?

C:  Don’t be afraid to initiate a conversation with a trusted friend to let them know you are struggling. Or if you notice one of your friends is acting differently, don’t be afraid to initiate a conversation with them to make sure they are ok. We all are walking through different seasons of life, and we need different things at different times, kind of like the crops we are farming. Also, if you are struggling, take practical steps to try and manage stress/depression/anxiety. I have been following Jesus for a while and I hear a lot of conversations end with “I’ll be praying for you.” And prayer is definitely a part of this battle (in my opinion), but taking practical steps to learn how to deal with these issues needs to be a part of this as well. It’s kind of like, when I show up on someone’s farm, that means that they have exhausted all other resources and they are in desperate need of an answer. When you have exhausted all other resources, seek out professional help! There is absolutely nothing wrong with seeing a therapist or getting on medication – and I think that there are more people doing these two things than we know about. I think that doing those things all those years ago has made me a better person, husband, and father, but also a better extension specialist.

A: Thank you so much for sharing your story Camp. I know it will help other people who are experiencing some of these challenges.

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