Posted February 19, 2018
By Jordan Hildebrand
American farmers may have a higher rate of suicide than veterans. While comparing these numbers from two separately conducted studies from two different entities isn’t conclusive, the trends that have emerged are alarming. According to the CDC, individuals in the farming, fishing and forestry occupational group are statistically more likely to commit suicide than any other. The farmers’ rate of suicide is 84.5 suicide deaths out of 100,000. The most vulnerable veteran demographic (18-29 year old males) has a rate of 85.64 suicide deaths per 100,000, while veterans as a whole have a rate of 35.3 per 100,000.
This is a problem. It’s widespread. We can’t be silent about it.
It’s a rough time economically in agriculture. There’s no doubt about it, everyone is feeling it. Within the past three years, farm income levels have hit their lowest point since 1985. From 2014 to 2015, farm income dropped 95% and farm debt levels have increased by 25%. The price of wheat has also dropped an alarming 55% since 2013. Unfortunately for farmers, this means they’re still spending money on inputs, and not having much revenue in return.
If you’re a farmer and this hits close to home, you are NOT alone and there ARE resources out there for you.
Finances are at the forefront of every farmers’ mind. When you’re feeling the strain of what seems to be a mounting debt load that’s impossible to escape, talk to the experts at the Kansas Agricultural Mediation Services (KAMS.) They provide confidential financial counseling and legal assistance, as well as mediation services and farm and ranch succession planning. Agricultural credit mediations and USDA adverse decision mediation are two popular services that the organization provides that few farmers currently know about. These mediation sessions allow farmers and lenders to work together through these tough economic times and possibly find a compromise that’s agreeable for both parties. The K-State Research and Extension team has provided intensive one-on-one financial consultations to more than 1,000 farm families facing many of the same issues as you.
In addition, KAMS supports the Farm Analyst Program. Farm analysts, or trained extension agents, will travel directly to a producer’s home to provide private and confidential business advice. These farm analysts will use a financial planning and analysis software program designed to help producers understand their financial situation and make informed decisions. The analysists are trained to offer objective and thoughtful ideas specifically tailored to your farm to help you start seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
Farmers are passionate people.
In order to make it in this industry you have to be. To help an emerging seedling feel its first rays of sunshine. To pull a calf in the middle of the night and watch it take its first steps. Farmers cultivate light and life in the world, but many are personally overwhelmed by the dark and uncertain economic future. This, combined with limited access to mental health resources in rural areas and sky high health insurance costs, is a recipe for disaster for many farmers.
Dr. Mike Rosmann is a psychologist and a leading expert in agricultural behavioral health. The plight of the farmer is near and dear to his heart, simply because he is one. Dr. Rosmann points to his Agrarian Imperative theory, the strong urge that farmers feel to produce and supply the essentials for human life.
It’s a basic human instinct, but when factors interrupt a farmer’s natural instincts (like economic pressure), and they can’t fulfill this instinctual purpose, they fall into despair. The same drive that fuels your motivation and success is the same that intensifies perceived shortcomings and the emotions that come along with them.
Rosmann wrote that the agrarian imperative theory “is a plausible explanation of the motivations of farmers to be agricultural producers and to sometimes end their lives”.
No widow or child left behind feels the relief of insurance dollars in their pocket. Instead, they feel the weight of their loss and confusion over the sudden departure. Never forget that you are more valuable than the sum of your debts.
If anything we’ve talked about hits home for you, please visit the resources found throughout the article, as well as below. If you hear others talking about their despair or joking about “how insurance money is the only way out,” send them back to this article. An innocent joke may just be a self-depreciating cry for help. None of us can single-handedly increase the prices in the grain or cattle markets, but all of us have the ability to save a life with a listening ear and a well-placed suggestion.
Kansas Agricultural Mediation Services - We can help! Kansas Agricultural Mediation Services provides agriculturists the resources they need to solve legal and financial issues. If you have any questions about how we can provide assistance, please give us a call. Calls are free and confidential.
KSU Farm Analyst Program - The Farm Analyst Program has a long history of responding to farm families encountering a variety of challenges. The program's intensive one-on-one consultation, using farmers trained as K-State Research and Extension analysts, has provided assistance to more than 1,000 Kansas farm families. Analysts are active farmers and ranchers with extensive training in business analysis. Their farming experience provides a strong element of empathy to the families they assist. The role of a farm analyst is centered on the use of a computer software Program called FinPack™.
Mental Health Resources
Association of Community Mental Health Centers of Kansas - This organization has a list of local community mental health centers near you. Please reach out to these nearby professionals if you are experiencing depression or self-harming thoughts.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline - If you are experiencing a crisis, please call, text or chat with someone from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. While they may not know much about the rural and farm life, they are there to listen to you. Call 1-800-273-8255 | Chat online with someone here
How to Find an Agricultural Behavioral Health Counselor - Article by Dr. Mike Rosmann - The first and most important decision for overwhelmed farmers and their families is to seek counseling. It’s a difficult decision because it involves acknowledging that they need external advice rather than relying solely on themselves.
Suicide by Farmers Continues to be an Unresolved Problem - Article of Dr. Mike Rosmann - Why look at farmer suicide again? This column has often focused on suicide by farmers, as have many radio and television broadcasts, print media articles, and online news sources. The best answer to “Why” is: The problem isn’t going away. There is more to the problem that we (the agricultural producers, their families, healthcare-providers, researchers, and everyone else) don’t understand, than what we do understand.
Farm Town Strong (Opioid Crisis Help) - The opioid crisis has struck farm and ranch families much harder than the rest of rural America. Farm towns will overcome this epidemic through strong farmer-to-farmer support and the resilience of our communities. The nation's two largest farm organizations have teamed up to bring attention to the opioid epidemic in farm country and provide information and resources to help those struggling with opioid abuse.
Should I Be Feeling This Way - Have you ever felt that things weren’t going your way? Do you feel overworked, but your efforts aren’t paying all of the bills? Are the weather conditions not in favor of your crops? Have you had several livestock die or are you paying for costly medications and just can’t keep up? Are you close to retirement, but have nothing saved to retire? Is it becoming more and more difficult to find the energy to even deal with the stress? Have the problems you’re facing risen to the level that you don’t even know where to start or what to do next? Could you be experiencing depression?
Kansas AgrAbility - The Kansas AgrAbility Project assists people with disabilities who work in agriculture.
The vision of AgrAbility is to enable a high quality lifestyle for farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural workers with disabilities. While the term “disability” often brings to mind conditions such as spinal cord injuries and amputations, AgrAbility addresses these and many other conditions, such as arthritis, chronic back pain, and behavioral health issues.
Through education and assistance, AgrAbility helps eliminate (or at least minimize) obstacles that inhibit success in production agriculture or agriculture-related occupations. National AgrAbility resources can be found here.
Resources to Help Others
- Article by Dr. Mike Rosmann - There are observable signs of severe financial and emotional distress among farmers--if we pay attention, chiefly these:
- Verbalizations by farmers about hopelessness, such as “I feel like giving up because nothing I try works.”
- Persistent loss of interest, laughter and pleasure in anything for days on end, and grim statements like, “Nothing is fun anymore.”
- Threats, such as “I’ll get even, if it’s the last thing I do.”
- Avoiding social and public events such as church, their children’s activities, and meetings.
Individual and Family Actions to Deal with Possible Farmer Suicide - Article by Dr. Mike Rosmann - Sometimes farm family members and others able to intervene must undertake actions to prevent another person’s self-destruction despite resistance from this person. Spouses, coworkers, and friends of a distressed farmer should ask the farmer about sleeplessness over recent nights, his/her worries, and especially those that entail perceptions about how others might view the farmer. ---
How Government and Industry Can Help Prevent Farmer Suicide - Article by Dr. Mike Rosmann - Suicide by farmers isn’t going to go away without effective interventions.