NO OCCUPATION IS MORE CRITICAL TO AMERICA'S PUBLIC HEALTH, HAPPINESS, AND ECONOMIC PROSPERITY THAN FARMING. WE MUST CONSTANTLY WORK TO MAKE FARMING A FULFILLING PURSUIT, STARTING WITH PROTECTING FARMERS FROM SUICIDE.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
WHO WE ARE, WHAT WE DO (AND WHY WE DO IT)
Saveashorefarmer.org is a project of The Suicide Prevention Coalition, a consortium of nonprofits, counseling services, health departments, hospitals and private behavioral health professionals and schools on the lower Eastern Shore of Maryland. With an agenda that teaches suicide prevention, works to enhance mental health care, and is frequently in classrooms and meeting rooms across Worcester, Wicomico and Somerset Counties, SPC strives to reduce the historically high rates of suicide in rural areas like ours.
On this website you’ll find the mental tools necessary to tell if someone – a loved one, a neighbor, a workmate, even a complete stranger – is at risk of suicide. You’ll learn how to keep that person safe until trained medical professionals can intercede.
Across the United States, suicide rates are higher in areas characterized by open space, tight knit communities and farmland. Within a state like Maryland, rates tend to be high in counties like Wicomico and Worcester on the Eastern Shore, and Washington and Allegany on the western. Why? Residents tend to be fiercely independent, resistant to the notion that anyone might suffer from a mental illness and often reluctant to seek treatment. For those who are open to counseling and therapy, logistics can be a barrier as these communities are typically underserved by mental health professionals. Finally, the rate of firearm ownership is high.
In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control reported that farmers, forestry workers and watermen are 3.4 times more likely to die by suicide than other American workers. As recently as April 2018, NPR and other media reported that “Suicide is rising among American farmers as they struggle to keep afloat.”
This is no surprise for any farmer. Since 2013, farm incomes have dropped nearly 50% (National Farm Union). Commodity prices are low, costs and farm debt are rising, and the nonprofit Farm Aid predicts that if things do not change, farm closures will top that in the 1980s, when at its peak 250 farms closed every hour in America. If this is not stress-inducing, it is difficult to imagine what is.
Agriculture is a keystone in the economy of the three counties of the lower Eastern Shore. Drill down through overall regional suicide rates, and the data reveal that suicides are most common among white males aged 45 to 64, 62% higher than the overall rate (Worcester County Health Department). This age group includes those in agriculture most likely to be feeling the stress that could lead to suicide. While women attempt to take their own lives much more often than men, it is men who are more likely to die by suicide. Men choose more lethal means, most often firearms. Agriculture is dominated by men.
So farmers have three strikes against them when it comes to suicidality before they even turn their first shovel of soil:
1) They live in rural areas,
2) They work at high stress occupations, and
3) As men, they are simply better at taking their own lives.
This is why we do what we do.
WARNING SIGNS OF STRESS AND SUICIDALITY IN FARM FAMILIES
Farm families can suffer stress for many reasons: decline in commodity prices, crop loss, accidents, personnel problems, debt, and weather just to name a few. In other cases, stress can result from a prolonged illness that slashes personal productivity, or long and hard working hours.
The greater the number of stress factors and warning signs a farmer is exhibiting, the greater the need for additional help. If farm families are exhibiting any of these signs of stress or suicidal thoughts, especially if there are multiple signs, they must be taken seriously. If there are significant changes in the way someone typically functions, immediate attention and intervention can save a life. Don’t ignore the worrisome signs. Be kind, not judgmental, but don’t let the person about whom you’re worried just tell you “I’m OK…I can get through this on my own…Leave me alone! I’m not crazy!”
IF MULTIPLE SIGNS OF STRESS ARE EVIDENT AND YOU FEEL THAT A SUICIDE ATTEMPT IS AT HAND, CALL THE NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE:
WORRIED ABOUT SOMEONE? HERE’S HOW YOU CAN HELP
Men, but especially those in farming, forestry and commercial fishing, avoid seeking counseling for personal problems because growing up male is often characterized by an emphasis on independence, competition and emotional restraint. Men don’t easily open up and share their emotions, but instead try to tough it out. How men are socialized, as well as family, personal and social barriers, cause many farmers to be reluctant to seek help for anything at all, but especially for mental challenges like depression. Family practitioners – Extension Service professionals, family therapists, pastors, and local health departments – can provide vital support to farmers who need their help.
It isn’t your job to solve all their problems, just to keep them safe until a trained professional can intervene.
But first you have to get them there.
It sounds hard, but it need not be if someone to whom you are close is worrying you. Start by following the LOAM guidelines:
Listen. Without blaming or judging, listen carefully to what the other person says, and watch his or her body language. You should affirm what you’re hearing, without arguing: “I hear you. Prices are down and costs are up. I know it’s a difficult time to be in farming, and I can see that it’s causing you a lot of stress.” Sometimes a kind ear is all that’s necessary.
Observe. Have you seen warning signs of depression and suicidal thoughts? Does the barn need painting, when before it has always shone? Is there equipment badly in need of repair? If you see these signs (see the Warning Signs of Stress column), especially if you see several of them, then
Ask. Be direct. “You don’t seem to be yourself. What’s going on?” If you get an evasive or confrontational answer (“Nothing, I’m alright, OK?”) point out what you’ve seen. Use an understanding, not a challenging, tone. Above all, don’t be afraid to ask the question “Are you thinking about suicide?” Countless studies have concluded that using the s-word will not put the idea in the person’s head. If it’s true, the idea is there already. Those who have suffered but who have overcome their difficulties following the help of a friend say the same thing: Asking the question directly, using the word “suicide,” proved that their friend understood the severity of their hurt. Does the farmer have a plan, like how and when he or she plans to make the attempt? Are there other warning signs – a suicide note, giving away that favorite ballcap or tool? These are an indication of a serious crisis. Act right away.
Mentor. You probably are not a psychiatrist or an Emergency Medical Technician. You aren’t a cardiologist either, are you? But you wouldn’t think twice about learning and using CPR to keep someone close to you with a heart condition alive until the ambulance arrives. The same goes for suicide prevention first aid. All you have to do is keep the person safe and help him find professional support. Ask “Have you talked to anyone else about this?” Maybe the doctor, or the pastor at the church where he worships. Steer him to some of the people and organizations on this website’s “WHERE TO FIND HELP” tab. Has he called a crisis response center? Make sure he is aware of the 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Offer to help getting him there, even just to ride along; promise that you’ll follow up and be around if he needs to talk.
If you’re wrong, that the other person is not suicidal but just having a couple bad days, what’s the worst that could happen? He can be angry that you even asked, but he’ll get over the anger. He can never get over being dead. Would you ever get over not having taken the chance, and asked?
"One of the hurdles in getting people help is the self-reliant nature of farmers. When a tractor breaks down, they can fix it. When their cow has trouble giving birth, they can figure out a way to bring those calves into the world, but for their own health, they may not be able to figure out a way out of distress. And too they may be reluctant to seek out someone who could help. We must become as comfortable in finding help for depression and anxiety as we would be if we needed help with diabetes or a pest on our crops.”
-an Ohio Extension Service Agent
-an Ohio Extension Service Agent