Farming is stressful enough in a normal year, but add a months-long drought and many producers could be vulnerable to mental and behavioral health problems, says a mental health expert and former Purdue University assistant professor of nursing.

The emotional strain of watching their crops wither and livestock feed prices soar could cause farmers to slip into deep depression, substance abuse and even thoughts of suicide, said Roberta Schweitzer. She urged farmers to get help dealing with their stress if they feel helpless and hopeless.

"I grew up on a family farm, and you get used to the stressful times of the year, and then it relaxes a bit," Schweitzer said. "But when you have a big trauma like the drought, it makes it that much harder on a farmer because more and more stress is piled on top of what they already have to deal with, and it challenges their coping skills."

Schweitzer, who recently teamed with the Purdue-based Indiana AgrAbility Project to present a webinar on drought-related mental health issues, said the independent nature of farmers makes them less prone to talk about their emotional struggles or seek counseling than city dwellers.

"Farmers often feel responsible for getting everything done and being in control of everything, and in a case like the drought, you're not in control," she said. "There's a stigma attached to mental illness, and farmers don't want to be identified with that. They like to think they're able to function and take care of their families."