The text I received was a shock. It stated that a local farmer had passed away this morning...” When I was told that he had taken his own life, I hurt for his family and loved ones and the pain that they were feeling. This gentleman had a great wife and family, he was a successful farmer/businessman, and he was active in his church and community. Unfortunately, this scene plays out far too often in the farm community.
Farm Suicide Background: A 2016 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that people working in farming, fishing, and forestry are 3.4 times more likely than other American workers to die by suicide on the job. The study indicated an agriculture suicide rate of 84.5 people per 100,000 people. The suicide rate for farmers may be higher as some farm deaths are reported as accidents when they could have been a suicide. Also, the CDC study also did not include the states of California, Iowa, Illinois, and Nebraska due to how suicides in those states are tracked.
Stress Factors: Farmers tend to feel more stress than people in other occupations. Some of these stress factors include:
- The pressure to pass the family farm through to the next generation.
- Being at the mercy of weather challenges.
- Grain markets. The frustration of not being able to control the grain markets.
- Machinery problems. Machinery usually does not break unless you are using it, which is often at the peak times of need.
- Labor challenges. Skilled labor that is willing to work long and hard hours is becoming more difficult to find.
- Other farm stress factors: weeds, plant diseases, farm economics, etc.
Warning Signs of Stress:
- Changes in Emotions.
- Changes in attitudes and cognitive skills.
- Changes in behavior.
- Changes on the farm or ranch.
How Can We Help?:
- Be prepared to help those under extreme stress:
- The Cooperative Extension Service offers workshops pertaining to farm stress. The Communicating With Farmers Under Stress workshops is offered in various states and online. The Purdue University web page for this can be found at Communicating with Farmers Under Stress (purdue.edu), or you can reach out to Tonya Short at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at (812) 882-3509 for additional information.
- Michigan State University Extension has an excellent publication titled, “How to Talk with Farmers Under Stress”. It can be found online at How to Talk with Farmers Under Stress - Managing Farm Stress (msu.edu).
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1(800) 273-TALK (8255).
- Crisis Text Line: Text “CONNECT” to 741741.
- American Psychological Association Farmer Stress: https://www.apa.org/news/events/farmer
- Ag Health Risk Assessment Tool: https://www.agrisafe.org/ag-health-risk-assessment-tool
- Agrisafe Network: https://agrisafe.org/. Includes a Mental Health section with resources and information.
A little over nine years ago, I ran into an old farmer friend of mine in a local restaurant. From our conversation, I could tell something was troubling him. As we parted ways, we agreed to catch up soon. I planned to reach back out to him as soon as I got a break from my current project. He took his life a few days later, which was before I took time to call him. Don’t let that happen to you. Farm stress is a very real challenge for the ag industry. You never know when you may have an opportunity to help someone. We can help by being mindful, asking questions, being prepared, and helping guide those under extreme stress toward professional help. Don’t let a loved one or friend become a statistic.
Christopher C Peacock, ALC
Halderman Farm Management & Real Estate Service
- How to Talk With Farmers Under Stress, Michigan State University Extension.
- Tools for Today’s Farmer: Navigating Uncertain Times, Purdue University Extension.
- Farmer Suicide: The Topic Few Will Discuss, Farm Progress Publication.
- Farm Stress Contributes to Farmer Suicides, Expert Says, Jonathan Knutson, Agweek.
- Amy Alka, Purdue CES, Randolph County.