Suicides in farm country

Cyndi’s Two Cents

Suicides in farm country


In recent months I have seen several reports about the high rate of farmer suicides in this country.  It breaks my heart to read the numbers, knowing these are people, not simply statistics.  A 2017 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study found that farm owners and workers were three to five times as likely to kill themselves on the job compared with other occupations.

When someone mentions farmer suicide, many of us immediately recall the farm crisis of the 1980’s.  More than 1,000 farmers took their own lives during those dark days of an economic crisis more severe than any since the Great Depression.  More than 90 percent of those suicides happened here in the Midwest.

Margins, if existent, were tight and there was no room for the next generation on the family farm.  Thousands of multi-generational farms were lost to foreclosure. Rural communities suffered along with the farmers who were a part of them.  Banks and local businesses, churches and schools felt the repercussions of the farm crisis. 

Although financial stress remains a root cause of suicide, there are other factors at play.  Perhaps too light-hearted a description for this very serious subject, but farming is not for sissies.  It can be hard physical labor.  Back-breaking work in extreme weather conditions can cause both physical and mental pain. 

Many farmers work alone.  Many have poor access to quality health care. If it is available, affordable insurance that allows access to quality health care is not.

Farmers might go days and weeks – sometimes months – without a decent night’s sleep or a day away from the farm. 

Earlier this year, the Missouri Department of Mental Health collaborated with several state partners including Missouri Hospital Association and the Department of Agriculture to create a resource guide  “Growing Stress on the Farm:  The Expanding Economic and Mental Health Disparities in Rural Missouri.”  The guide lists several warning sides of suicide: talking about wanting to die; looking for a way to kill oneself; talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose; talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain; talking about being a burden to others; increasing the use of alcohol or drugs; acting anxious, agitated or recklessly; Sleeping too little or too much; withdrawing or feeling isolated; showing rage or talking about seeking revenge; displaying extreme mood swings.  The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk. Warning signs are associated with suicide but may not be what causes suicide.

The guide explains what to do if someone you know exhibits warning signs of suicide: do not leave the person alone; remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt; call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255); take the person to an emergency room, or seek help from a medical or mental health professional.

I hope and pray that those suffering from depression or experiencing an overwhelming sense of despair will reach out for help.