May is Mental Health Awareness Month.



Linda Geist
  • Signs and symptoms of stress.
    Signs and symptoms of stress.

COLUMBIA, Mo. – The theme of 2023 Mental Health Awareness Month is “Look Around, Look Within,” says University of Missouri Extension health and safety specialist Karen Funkenbusch.

Surroundings affect mental health, says Funkenbusch, who works with MU Extension groups to promote mental health awareness in rural Missouri.

For rural Missourians, surroundings may look a little different than in urban areas. Farmers face unique challenges. Driven by a strong sense of duty to the multigenerational legacy of the farm, farmers also face pressures such as extreme weather, markets and finances.

Behavioral signs of stress include loss of interest in things you used to enjoy, wanting to withdraw from people and activities, poor concentration, confusion, forgetfulness, uncertainty or trouble making decisions, relationship problems, feeling anxious or irritable, change in personality, negative thinking and increased smoking/drinking.

Physical signs may be more obvious but often develop gradually. These signs include weight loss or gain, changes in appetite, stomach or gastrointestinal problems, poor sleep, clenching or grinding of teeth, chest pain and poor hygiene.

For yourself, know the physical signs: labored breathing, fatigue, body aches and rising blood pressure. Slow down, take breaks, exercise and get a physical checkup if you feel that you are stressed. And reach out to friends, family, clergy or medical professionals, says Funkenbusch.

Knowing which tools are available is a good first step in dealing with feelings of stress and anxiety. Everyone experiences — and manages — stress in different ways, says Funkenbusch.

If self-care strategies don’t work for you, consider reaching out to loved ones or an online therapist for additional support. MU Extension coordinates with the North Central Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Center and the Missouri Department of Agriculture to provide resources through USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture grants. Farmers, ranchers and immediate family members are eligible to receive free, confidential teletherapy.

To request free teletherapy counseling, go to, email or call 573-882-4677. Another MU Extension service is Show-Me Strong Farm Families, also funded by USDA NIFA, at

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