“For as long as the data’s been collected, we’ve seen persistent increases for farmers compared to many other occupations,” Peek-Asa says. “That’s persisted through very rough periods in the farm economy and even good economic times for farmers.”
Peek-Asa says some of the causes for suicide in farmers are the same as for other groups.
“Being very isolated, not having a lot of access to health care resources, maybe mental health care resources, is an issue,” Peek-Asa says. “If a farmer is suffering from depression, they may have less access to care for a mental health condition.”
Some of the issues are directly related to the demands of the occupation.
“Farming can be very stressful, it’s physically demanding, it requires a lot of knowledge, it can be financially very stresssful,” she says. “Those are things — especially financial stress — that may contribute to someone who may have already been thinking of a suicide.”
She says farmers need to know the resources are there to help them get through tough situations.
“Farmers are extremely tough and it’s important to separate the notion of being tough from seeking help,” Peek-Asa says. “The smart thing to do when you need help is to seek help. So it doesn’t diminish your toughness in any way to have a period where you need some resources.”
The survey found farmers in the West were most likely to commit suicide at 43% of total farmer suicides, followed by the Midwest at 37%, the South at 13% and the Northeast at 6%.
“We do believe that farming is an extremely valuable and rewarding occupation and we don’t in any way want this article to point negatively to farming as an occupation,” Peek-Asa says. “But I think it makes us think that we need to dig a little deeper to find out what resources need to be more available to farmers.”
Peek-Asa is an occupational and environmental health professor at the University of Iowa College of Public Health. The findings were published in the Journal of Rural Health.