September 10, 2023 - Suicide is a tragic loss of life and a devastating event for family members, friends, and communities. In the United States alone, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death, claiming more than 49,449 lives each year. However, the rate of suicide among farmers is three and a half times higher than among the general population, according to the National Rural Health Association.
Over the past few years, farmers and ranchers have experienced significant economic stressors, including:
- Falling commodity prices
- Natural disasters that have harmed crop yields and reduced herds and flocks
- Increasing levels of farm debt
- Labor shortages
- Trade disputes
Suicide prevention begins with awareness. It's important to know the warning signs, which can include talking about wanting to die, feeling hopeless or trapped, increased use of drugs or alcohol, withdrawing from friends and family, and extreme mood swings. Additionally, certain risk factors, such as a history of mental illness, substance abuse, or a family history of suicide, can increase a person's vulnerability to suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
The publication reports that mental illness is more prevalent in rural areas than in urban communities. At the same time, there are fewer behavioral health providers and other services available in rural areas to help people get treatment and support. Without these resources, people may continue to experience symptoms that affect their relationships, ability to work, and quality of life. The University of Minnesota Extension offers resources on their Coping with Rural Stress website, including information on mental health, stress and change, and strategies to help families cope with stress. It's important to remember that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, it's important to seek help immediately. There are numerous resources available, including suicide prevention hotlines, mental health professionals, and support groups. A list of health providers that offer affordable services to the rural community are:
- Vermont Farm First uses an approach modeled on employee assistance programs offered in the workplace. Farm owners and family members can receive information, brief counseling, and referrals.
- The Farm Aid hotline provides confidential assistance for farmers experiencing distress or in crisis at 1-800-FARM-AID (327-6243) or by filling out an online request for assistance. The hotline is answered between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. EST by Farm Aid staff.
- American Farm Bureau Federation’s Farm State of Mind directory offers contact information for helplines and counseling services, searchable by state and category.
- Sin Medicine provides an understanding of the 4 A’s of rural mental health and also offers a list of doctors in your State for seeking help.
- The 988 Lifeline provides 24/7, confidential support to people in suicidal crisis or mental health-related distress. By calling or texting 988, you'll connect to mental health professionals with the Lifeline network.
Suicide is a complex issue, but it's also a preventable one. By increasing our awareness and taking action to support suicide prevention efforts, we can help save lives and support those who are struggling with suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Let's work together to prevent suicide and promote mental health and wellness for all.
As my friend Thomas C. Duncan once said, “And finally friends, I’d have you remember this: There is no surplus of people on earth and you are here for a reason. You are loved, valued, and necessary. We weren’t put on earth to ride alone so if you do one thing, please let it be this: Take care of each other."
Dedicated to Thomas C. Duncan
Written by: Megan Travis, Vive Social Media Intern