Thursday, April 17, 2014

Male farmers are four times more likely to attempt suicide than men in other lines of work

Male farmers are four times more likely to attempt suicide than men in other professions, Max Kutner reports for Newsweek magazine, which recently revived its print edition. "For decades, farmers across the country have been dying by suicide at higher rates than the general population. The exact numbers are hard to determine, mainly because suicides by farmers are under-reported (they may get mislabeled as hunting or tractor accidents, advocates for prevention say) and because the exact definition of a farmer is elusive."

The alarming trend can be tracked back three decades, Kutner writes. "The 1980s brought two droughts, a national economy in trouble and a government ban on grain exports to the Soviet Union. Farmers started defaulting on their loans, and by 1985, 250 farms closed every hour. That economic undertow sucked down farms and the people who put their lives into them. . . . Since that crisis, the suicide rate for male farmers has remained high: just under two times that of the general population."

The problem is a global one. Since 1995 more than 270,000 farmers in India have committed suicide, and the suicide rate among French farmers is one every two days, Kutner writes. "In China, farmers are killing themselves to protest the government's seizing of their land for urbanization. In Ireland, the number of suicides jumped following an unusually wet winter in 2012 that resulted in trouble growing hay for animal feed. In the U.K., the farmer suicide rate went up by 10 times during the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in 2001, when the government required farmers to slaughter their animals. And in Australia, the rate is at an all-time high following two years of drought."

Robert Fetsch, a retired professor of human development and family studies at Colorado State University, told Kutner, "Farmers are extremely self-sufficient and independent and tend to work around whatever they have, because they are so determined to keep moving."

But even those farmers seeking help don't have many options. Sowing the Seeds of Hope, a network of agricultural phone hotlines, was created in 1999 through federal funding from the federal Office of Rural Health Policy. The service, which connected farmers in Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin with counseling specialists, received 75,000 calls and trained over 4,400 professionals, before shutting down in 2010 after running out of funds. New York has a state-funded service called NY FarmNet that assigns callers a consultant. Last year the hotline received 6,000 calls for assistance. (Read more)

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