Articles, Blog

Preventing Farmer Suicide: Collaboration and Communication

November 7, 2019

I’ve never run into anybody who doesn’t
say do something about this you’ve got to do something about this this is
intolerable. Whenever you hear someone taking their own life there’s a there’s
a devastation of especially if it’s someone that you personally knew. You
start to blame yourself some. What could I have done? What signs that I miss? As we know our rural communities, our farming communities are incredibly tight-knit
places and so the loss of one individual from those communities has an impact not only on their family, but on their church, on the school, on all of those local
businesses and all the people that call that community home. One area we’re
really or we’re doing a lot more research on is where the drivers causing
the farmer stress that could potentially lead to taking one’s life and when we’re
looking at we’re looking a lot of financial stress. Farmers do have some
kind of unique stressors and unique challenges as it relates to mental
health. You talk about volatile markets, you talk about unpredictable weather,
you talk about the heavy workloads, and the social isolation and the long hard days
at work you know that that farmers undertake on a daily basis. That all
amounts to really high levels of stress. We’re seeing record numbers of farms
close and unfortunately because we have a mental health source and we’ve had it
for a long time there’s no safety net for those folks to seek the right care.
If you’re in world health professional and you didn’t grow up on a farm and you
don’t have family that farm you may not appreciate how much is going on in terms
of the flux of the income for that farm family and so if you see someone for
care and you don’t ask the question about their mental health or support
structure where their families at moving down the road in terms of potential loss
of the farm you’re really missing an opportunity to address a huge financial
impact of that farmer may be facing. Sometimes people feel a sense of
inadequacy or they feel a sense of pride that they need to be able to manage any
problems in life on their own they will keep issues to themselves and
they feel like it’s perhaps a sign of their own inadequacy or their own
weakness that they feel depression when they’re being affected by factors beyond
their own control whether that’s a drought whether that’s a you know
dropping crop prices or something. Stigma is probably the most difficult
challenge when it comes to reaching farmers and ranchers and this goes for
both a female farmer/rancher and the male farmer/rancher. I think we as a
community really need to push past that stigma, push past some of the hesitation
we have in seeking help and understand that sometimes we do need help that’s
not a personal failure and we need to have those conversations in our rural
communities. The first thing is just to be willing to be helpful to be attentive
to signs of distress that may exist in someone’s life. There’s a lot of
different signals that indicate someone is under higher elevated levels of
stress and it may be affect their physical well-being. They may talk about
you know I’m a variety of physical challenges they’re experiencing
difficulty with insomnia, headaches, tension you know physical fatigue a
variety of physical difficulties that are related to stress and then they they
may see challenges in terms of the person’s you know engagement socially. Are they continuing to engage in typical social activities in the community? Do
they want to go out and participate in social activities or are they
withdrawing themselves? You may see it in communication challenges in
relationships where they’re more prone to irritability to anger to isolating
themselves. As part of the farmer owned cooperative community we are the people
that are kind of out there in these small towns that these farmers are most
likely to be interacting with and we want to make sure that our people you
know have the tools and the knowledge maybe not to be the one providing the
help and the counseling but certainly knowing where to send that person to
get that kind of help and counseling that they may
need. There are excellent resources out there financial experts that help farm
families but oftentimes they’re not teaming up with the behavioral health
specialists and there’s a lot of innovative ways to try to provide that
best support to those farm families that are especially dealing with a transition
in terms of moving a farm on to the next generation. We need to rely on the
grassroots that are already out there and that this relationship that a lot of
farmers have within their own communities with their primary care
physicians, with friends, neighbors at the coffee shop, with their church, with their
ministers. There’s a lot of help that is out there. Cooperative Extension exists
in every rural community and it’s under the umbrella of the of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. People tend to know their local Extension agent and your local
Extension agent is a really good starting point to get access to
resources and support on dealing with challenges, when the stress exists in
agriculture. Managing your health managing your stress should be the
highest priority in managing your farm or ranch operation, because the quality of
your health is what allows you to function on a day-to-day basis as a
farmer or rancher, to make decisions, to be able to run your operation. They can
help that farm we get the help that they need to ultimately realize that they’re
needed in their communities, they’re needed on this planet, they’re valuable
human beings and suicide should not be an option for them, no matter how
distressed they may be.

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