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Farmers and Suicide

Sad man in a Straw Hat
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Kerby Andersonnever miss viewpoints

If I were to ask you which professions have high suicide rates, you would probably mention military veterans suffering from PTSD. In their latest report, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have found that the suicide rate for young male military veterans is higher than previously thought. But they found that it is lower in some states than the suicide rate for farmers.

The high suicide rate for farmers is only just now beginning to get media attention. Some mental health experts are saying that we probably need some sort of federally funded prevention resources similar to what is provided to veterans.

Mike Rosman is a psychologist who has been studying this issue for decades and has an appreciation for the stresses on farmers since he is also an Iowa farmer. Writing in the journal Behavioral Healthcare he reminds us that, “Farming has always been a stressful occupation because many of the factors that affect agricultural production are largely beyond the control of the producers.”

This is borne out by the latest statistics from the CDC. If you focus on all the people working in agriculture (farmers, farm laborers, ranchers, fishers, and lumber harvesters), they take their lives at a rate higher than any other occupation. The suicide rate for agriculture workers in 17 states is nearly five times higher compared with that in the general population.

The reasons for this are many. Farmers are often reluctant to seek help. Often their farms are far from health care centers. Pesticide exposure can lead to depression. They are isolated. The cost of feed and equipment continues to rise while the prices they receive for food and fiber remain stagnant.

This is a health care crisis that deserves attention. Perhaps this is the first time you have heard about the suicide rate of farmers. Making citizens and politicians aware of this crisis is the first step.

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