Agriservice professionals play important role in suicide preventionAgriservice professionals play important role in suicide prevention
Support for farmers starts with the relationships they already have.
November 1, 2023
By Misty Oebel, Michigan State University Extension
Agricultural and farming services, also known as agriservices, include financial consulting, veterinary services, crop brokerage, meat packing, legal consultation, and other services. Agriservices play a crucial role in farmers being able to run their farms efficiently and safely, not only for their livelihood and families, but also for the good of their communities. Due to the deep trust farmers place in their relationships with agriservice agencies, those working in these industries may be the first point of contact for a farmer in crisis.
Farmers frequently face chronic stress related to finances, production, safety and weather. These stressors can lead to significant physical and behavioral health challenges. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified that farming and ranching continue to have among the highest reported suicide rates per occupation in the United States. Additionally, preliminary results from a study by Josie Rudolphi and Richard Berg indicate that 60% of farmers meet the criteria for at least mild depression, and 55% of farmers meet the criteria for generalized anxiety disorder.
Despite the evident need for increased support for farmers related to behavioral health, farmers are often less likely than other populations to seek the services of a therapist or counselor. This reluctance may be due to a variety of barriers, which can include:
Depression or anxiety, which make it difficult to make complex decisions.
Stigma surrounding emotional and mental health issues.
Distrust of behavioral health professionals who may not understand the unique farm subculture.
Lack of easily accessible physical and behavioral health services in rural areas.
Limited finances or lack of insurance coverage.
Given these barriers, farmers may not seek support for suicidal ideation or depression from a behavioral health specialist. They are, however, more likely to continue working with their veterinarians, accountants, brokers, attorneys and insurance agents. Studies, such as the one conducted by King and colleagues, have found that these ongoing relationships can be life-saving when agriservice professionals are trained to recognize signs of distress, and respond appropriately.
Signs of distress may include:
Sudden generosity: Farmers may suddenly give away prized possessions.
Mood changes: There may be noticeable shifts in mood (even if it may be perceived as positive) or a sudden loss of interest in farming or in relationships.
Feelings of hopelessness: Farmers may express hopelessness or concern that they are a burden to their friends and family.
When these signs are observed, it may be tempting to avoid discussing them. One commonly reported reason is that it can be uncomfortable having conversations about depression and suicide, and there may be a fear that it will end badly.
These fears are understandable, but having these conversations can become easier with training and resources. It can also be helpful to know that asking about suicide is not going to increase the likelihood that an attempt will be made. In fact, asking may even provide a sense of relief, and provide an opportunity for the individual to talk about how they are feeling without concern of being judged or not taken seriously.
Should you find that someone is planning to die by suicide, do not leave the person alone and consider accessing resources such as the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. With increased knowledge, awareness and a desire to help, it is possible for us to work together to reduce the number of suicides within our agricultural communities.
Opportunities to connect
Michigan State University (MSU) Extension offers a variety of programming and resources to support yourself and your loved ones undergoing mental health distress. For those in the agricultural and commercial fishing industry and their families, the Managing Farm Stress website offers programming and information, including teletherapy and the free virtual training Rural Resilience, among other offerings. If you are interested in more intensive training, Mental Health First Aid, provides education on how to recognize and respond to signs of mental health challenge or crisis.
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