Migrant Seasonal Agricultural Workers (MSAWs) are defined as seasonal farmworkers who travel to perform farm work and cannot return to their permanent residence within the same day.1 Aside from this, the individual must also earn at least half of their income from farm work, have worked 25 or more days/parts of days in farm work, and are not employed year-round by the same employer.1 Mental health issues affect all populations; however, MSAWs may be at higher risk. Stressors in the MSAW community, such as drought, overwork, pesticide exposure, financial difficulties, isolation, physical health, and poor housing, have been associated with elevated stress levels and increasing mental disorders, including depression and anxiety.3 Traveling for work can cause distress to MSAWs as they leave their permanent residence and familiarity behind. When migrating for work, MSAWs leave behind their extended family, support systems, and the feeling of belonging (i.e., children temporarily leaving their school, classmates, friends, and relatives). Poor mental health can affect MSAWs’ productivity, hobbies, motivations, social interactions, ability to handle challenges, and overall contentment and ability to enjoy life.
Poor mental health may be especially difficult to identify and treat amongst agricultural workers as they face multiple challenges, including language barriers, stigmas, access to health insurance, and high poverty rates.2 These challenges make it difficult for the individual in need to reach out for help. MSAWs may be unable to seek help with mental health issues due to working conditions. MSAWs work long hours with few days off; asking for time off work means less income earned to provide for their families. MSAWs may refrain from seeking medical care due to the fear of immigration status and, instead, opt to self-medicate and/or share medication.
Mental health issues affect everyone in different ways. Some symptoms of mental health challenges include the following: loss of interest, loss of concentration, loss of appetite, weight change, tiredness, irritability, difficulty sleeping, fatigue, loss of control or temper, anxiety, low self-esteem, withdrawal from social interactions, forgetfulness, and substance abuse. In addition, MSAWs may experience burnout, physical and mental exhaustion, and thoughts of suicide. Mental health has a deep impact on one’s wellbeing and physical health.3
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines self-care as: “the ability of individuals, families, and communities to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and cope with illness and disability with or without the support of a healthcare provider.” As defined by WHO, self-care includes health promotion, disease prevention and control, self-medication, providing care to dependent persons, seeking hospital/specialist care if necessary, and rehabilitation including palliative care.4 Self-care is often seen as a selfish or self-indulging act, but it is the opposite of that. Self-care encourages taking care of yourself to promote feeling healthy, well, and capable of helping yourself and others to be able to complete daily tasks effectively. Practicing self-care can prevent burnout and improve overall health. Self-care includes practices to help you stay physically, mentally, and emotionally well. 5
- Emotional self-care, such as self-talk, weekly bubble baths, saying “no” to things that cause unnecessary stress, giving yourself permission to take a pause, or setting up a weekly coffee date with a friend
- Physical self-care, such as prioritizing sleep, adopting an exercise routine you can stick with, choosing healthy and nourishing foods over highly processed ones
- Spiritual self-care, such as attending a religious service, spending time in nature, meditating, incorporating regular acts of kindness into your day, or keeping a gratitude journal 5
Self-care practices will vary for everyone, but the overall benefits promote positive health outcomes. MSAWs may face barriers to self-care due to living, working, or financial conditions. Self-care does not have to take a lot of time or cost money, i.e., going for a walk, asking for help with tasks, listening to music, reading a book, spending time in nature, etc. Practicing self-care can benefit MSAWs to reduce and manage stress, improve overall mental health, and find balance between work and personal life to prevent burnout.
A Community Health Worker (CHW) is a trusted member of the community who empowers their peers through education and connections to health and social resources. They have proven to be successful at increasing health outcomes for their communities because of their deep understanding of the cultural norms of the people they serve. They are often members of the community themselves. They educate their peers about disease and injury prevention, work to make health services more accessible, and strengthen their communities to create positive change. Their understanding of local culture, language, and resources allows them to effectively address emerging health challenges in any geographic location of any cultural makeup and across various age groups. The variety of communities served means that CHW-led programs can look very different yet share the same common goal: to improve health outcomes in underserved and under-resourced communities.6