An article in yesterday’s U.S News And World Report is getting attention in the suicide prevention community. It also has me reflecting on the need to understand the unique needs for the rural part of our county. The article was entitled “Study: Farmers Don’t Have Enough Mental Health Services” it goes on to describe the findings of the study highlighting the feelings of loneliness and isolation. Last spring, the same research lab identified that farmers are one of the highest risk occupations for suicide.
Also in her research Dr. Sally Spencer-Thomas highlights some of the risk factors for farmers:
- Access to and familiarity with lethal means. Studies indicate that farmers trying to die by suicide are most likely to use means to which they have easy access (Behere & Bhise, 2009). In India, for example, poisoning by pesticide consumption is the most common method. In England and Wales, on the other hand, firearms are more accessible, and thus they are the most-frequently used method for death by suicide.
- Exposure to death. Not only do they tend to have easy access to firearms, but also experience in using them (e.g. killing sick animals (Malmberg et al., 1997; Malmberg et al., 1999).
- High Stress Outside of their Control. Farmers experience high occupational stress and related problems, including concern over new laws, anxiety about changing farming methods, long working hours, unpredictability of weather, and financial problems resulting from market fluctuations (Malmberg et al., 1997; Malmberg, Simkin, & Hawton, 1999).
- Family tensions. Since farming is often a family business, family problems are intricately tied to farmers’ livelihood (Malmberg et al., 1997; Malmberg et al., 1999). When conflicts arise in their families, farmers may lose their livelihood in addition to closeness with family members (Malmberg et al., 1997). Farming is not simply an occupation, but a way of life. Familial conflict as well as isolation due to the impact of modern technology on the farming industry may lead to a feeling of thwarted belongingness among farmers (Joiner et al., 2009).
- Isolation. Farmers are becoming more isolated due to mechanization of farming (Malmberg et al., 1997).
- Stoicism. Farmers tend to feel as if they need to stay positive when dealing with hardship. Expressing negative thoughts and feelings in farming culture is discouraged, which leads to stigma around mental health problems (Judd et al., 2006).
Not to assume that all occupants of rural Rensselaer County are farmers, but these risk factors may also be present. I began to reflect on what we have done as a task force to engage the rural area of our county…
This was a headline from The Bennington Banner in preparation for our listening session that was held on February 12, 2015. Held almost three years ago to the day, this was last time we intentionally reached out to the rural part of our county. Every once and while in the task force meetings we mention how we need to understand the needs of this part of our county better. We would like to perhaps crowd source how we can do this better.
We would love to hear from you. If you are a resident of a rural part of the county, do the above risk factors resonate with you? Are there protective factors or strengths that perhaps can be added? Do we need to host another forum? What information would you like to hear from the task force and is there anything else we need to know from you? Thanks for taking the time to read the post and also feel free to stay tuned to our Facebook page for how you can help.