Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Helping Farm Families In Crisis

December 20, 1999

If a rural family suffers a calamity, illness or injury; rural neighbors are quick to pitch in with comfort, material aid and emotional support. It is one of the aspects of rural life that people appreciate.

However, there are few traditions for helping a suffering family who is in the process of losing a farm or ranch. Here the territory is a little less clear. How do you reach out to those families weighed down by onerous adverse circumstances? Here are some points to consider.


Give love and acceptance. The family often feels alone and isolated in their struggle and grief. Their faith and trust in others has been challenged. Even close relationships with friends and relatives suffer during this time of pain and turmoil. Proud and self-reliant people who aren’t used to having strong emotional needs often erect barriers between themselves and the people who care about them.

These hard-pressed families may not feel comfortable in sharing feelings or knowing how to ask for help. Some may feel suspicious and untrusting of the things that have happened to them. It takes persistence and consistency for the power of love and concern to break through hardened shells. Physical presence alone at sensitive times is enough to send a strong message of support.

The attitude of family members (parents, siblings, in-laws, children and especially a spouse) and good friends mean so much as the family draws into itself. Support and acceptance by the people closest to them is a Godsend in troubled times.

Their own self–esteem may be floundering. Though they know deep in their hearts that they did everything right, they wonder how they are perceived in the eyes of others. Gospel and negative judgments weigh heavily on their minds and erode the faith they once enjoyed and took for granted about the goodwill of others.


Little things help. During a time of grief, people in trouble have little energy left over to deal with the troublesome ordinary problems that come up. Getting help with these tasks frees them up to deal with the more painful tasks in front of them.

Friends and neighbors can be sensitive to when a bag of groceries, a plate of cookies, an errand, a loan of a piece of machinery, or other gesture of support may fill a need. The aid probably is a drop in the bucket compared to the financial straits they are in, but small things affirm love. Small acts of kindness and thoughtfulness are truly large because they show the struggling family that people do care.


Encourage communication. Grieving people need to express and accept their emotions. Pain, fear, anxiety, depression, guilt, anger, and frustration are natural feelings under the circumstances. When pain is expressed, its hold is weakened.

Being able to talk about their troubles helps grieving people take control of their thoughts and emotions. It helps them define their feelings and their dilemma. By verbalizing their problems they also begin a process of considering alternatives. What is needed is a good listener. They need to trust that their innermost thoughts and feelings will be held confidential.


Give material information, technical support and material aid. People in the process of trying to stay afloat need to know about the path they are on. Some of the best advice given to a farm family in trouble comes from people who have been through the crisis already. They can share a message of hope and concern because they have been there.

It takes incredible love and strength to share one’s loss in order to help someone else. They know what was helpful or not helpful to them. They’ve learned some things, even mistakes they made, that would be helpful to another family.


What is extremely helpful is having access to good financial and legal advice. Open and frank discussion about options and alternatives help most in the long run. There are tax and legal consequences to debt problems and the whole array of choices needs to be explained. For instance, if a farm family is leaving farming, the tax consequences need to be spread over two or three years instead of just one year.

Referring a struggling family to someone who can shed light on the practical dimensions of their problem may be the best help people can receive. This includes putting people in touch with those who can offer emotional and counseling support about communications and relationships.

Many of the unsung heroes are the ag business suppliers, lenders, creditors, and main street merchants who understand and work with people and their financial problems. Many of these business neighbors alter terms of repayment and carry these families at considerable financial risk to their own businesses. Whether the farm family survives on the farm or not, they will remember with great affection those people who put themselves on the line and made their path a bit easier.


Financial aid from other family members is important. The family is the first line of defense when the bottom falls out. These loving acts of sacrifice bind the family closer together.

No one person can or should fill all these roles. Each person in a rural community can play a part in softening the trials of these families as they are facing the loss of their lifestyle, their goals and dreams, and their equity.