A new study underscores the multitude of stresses faced by farmworkers, including the ongoing impact of COVID-19, increasing heat and climate crises, as well as challenging working and living conditions.
It’s a very hard time to be a farmworker. Across the nation, these essential workers have faced increased risk of COVID-19 infection and mortality. In California, farmworkers have been among the most impacted—2021 research found that they were four times more likely to test positive than the general population.
Yet, while COVID and other health impacts—including increasing the dangers of heat stress as the climate crisis ramps up—have received national attention, the mental health challenges faced by agricultural workers are less visible. This is particularly problematic because even before the pandemic, agricultural workers nation-wide were vulnerable to very high stress levels, as well as higher than average rates of depression and anxiety. All of that is also linked to poor physical health, substance abuse, and high injury rates.
According to our recent study, 40 percent of agricultural workers in Imperial County, a farming community along California’s southern border, experience high enough levels of stress to pose significant mental health risks. Imperial County is home to massive farms that produce more than half the nation’s winter vegetables, and many workers commute daily from Mexico to work in the fields. Despite the successes of the agricultural industry, Imperial County ranks highest in the state for income inequality, unemployment, and children living in poverty and has the highest proportion of non-white residents in California. There are well-documented housing shortages in the county and access to healthcare is limited. Adding to the stresses for agricultural workers, temperatures often average well above 100 degrees during the summer and the air quality is some of the poorest in the state. 07-28-22