Breaking down barriers: Preventing suicide in ag communities
The statistics are staggering: There has been a 30 percent rise in suicide in the past 20 years and suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the American Psychological Association. The suicide rate among farmers, ranchers and ag managers is 3.5 times higher than the national rate, according to a University of Iowa study. Many factors may contribute to a feeling of desperation, including financial problems, physical health problems, substance abuse and relationship problems.
For those in ag, financial stress is a chief concern: Many farm and ranch families have seen little increase in income, while costs have risen and debt is multiplying.
The majority of those who attempt suicide give some verbal or behavioral warning signs, says Glen Bloomstrom of LivingWorks, a suicide intervention training organization. But stigma and isolation are often barriers to seeking care, it may be up to family members and other farmers and ranchers to recognize when someone may be struggling.
What to Watch for
Anyone can be at risk for suicide. “LivingWorks encourages people to use their intuition and rely on your relationship with the person to identify if someone may be at risk for suicide,” says Bloomstrom. He offers the following signs that should raise awareness and concern.
- What you might hear: Statements that indicate end of life, hopelessness or pain, such as, “What’s the point of going on?” or “Things will be better when I’m not around.”
- What you might see: Changing use of alcohol or drugs, withdrawal or extreme mood swings.
Reach out to one of these resources if you or a loved one needs help.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
Crisis Text Line: Text 741741
Farm Aid Hotline: 1-800-FARM-AID (327-6243)
What You Can Do
If you see signs of suicide risk, Bloomstrom suggests asking directly if a person is having suicidal thoughts. “You will not put the idea of suicide in a person’s mind by using terms like kill yourself and suicide,” he says. He says the following steps can help those considering suicide.
- Listen. Let people talk about what’s going on in their lives. Acknowledge a person’s distress by asking if he or she is having thoughts of suicide and then listen actively. Create a safe space by asking questions, not immediately offering solutions. Research has shown that once a person has been asked if he or she is thinking of suicide, the response is typically relief, not greater distress.
- Get involved. Become available to the person and show your full support. Remove items that may hurt the person, such as weapons or pills.
- Get help. Those who are trained in suicide intervention can help and offer help (see sidebar), but also consider other networks where a person may be comfortable sharing, such as a clergy member or doctor.
If you, a loved one or a community member is having suicidal thoughts, Bloomstrom says it’s important to act. “It’s not polite to see someone struggling and do nothing. Do not let stigma or fear stop you.”
CHS Launches Mental Health Training and Resources
In partnership with LivingWorks, CHS has begun training employees who work directly with members of the agricultural community to recognize signs of suicide risk and mental health stress among farmers and ranchers.
The online training adds CHS employees to a network of safety to help reduce suicide in agricultural communities by recognizing signs that people are struggling, providing language to ask people directly about suicide and connecting those who are hurting and their loved ones to prevention resources.
“Rural communities face stress and health challenges unique to their businesses and geographies. We aren’t the experts in how to manage the stress impacting our owners’ and customers’ families and lives,” says Jay Debertin, president and CEO of CHS. “But we are committed to supporting those who are, those who help us have the difficult conversations, and those who help us all understand that taking care of our mental health is directly tied to taking care of our physical health.”
LEARN MORE: Find a list of mental health resources, including resources by state, at chsinc.com/stewardship/rural-health.
This information should not be interpreted as medical advice. More information about LivingWorks can be found at livingworks.net.