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Poor access to quality health care, isolation and financial stress interact with life factors to put farmers at a disproportionately high risk for suicide, a new US study suggests.
Researchers at the University of Iowa (UI) in the US found that the number of suicides among farmers and farmworkers in the US has remained stubbornly high since the end of the 1980s farm crisis, much higher than workers in many other industries.
They examined suicides and homicides among farmers and agricultural workers across US from 1992 to 2010 and found 230 farmers committed suicide during that time, an annual suicide rate that ranged from 0.36 per 100,000 farmers to 0.95 per 100,000.
The rate is well above that of workers in all other occupations, which never exceeded 0.19 per 100,000 during the same time period.
The 1992 to 2010 rate is not as high as the 1980s, when more than 1,000 farmers took their own lives because they were losing their farms to foreclosure, but Corinne Peek-Asa, professor in the UI College of Public Health, said the new numbers still are excessive.
"Occupational factors such as poor access to quality health care, isolation, and financial stress interact with life factors to continue to place farmers at a disproportionately high risk for suicide," she said.
As in the 1980s, financial issues continue to cause some suicides, especially during economic crises or periods of extreme weather, Peek-Asa said.
However, farmers face an array of other stresses that put them at high risk for suicide: physical isolation from a social network, leading to loneliness; physical pain from the arduous work of farming and lack of available health care resources in rural areas, especially mental health care.
She said that farmers have access to lethal means because many of them own weapons. The rifle they use to chase off coyotes can easily be turned on themselves.
Peek-Asa said farmers are different from workers in most other fields in that their work is a significant part of their identity, not just a job. When the farm faces difficulties, many see it as a sign of personal failure.
"They struggle with their ability to carve out the role they see for themselves as farmers. They can not take care of their family; they feel like they have fewer and fewer options and can not dig themselves out," Peek-Asa said.
The study was published in the Journal of Rural Health.