A study done by researchers at the University of Iowa College of Public Health finds the suicide rate among farmers continues to be higher than other professions.
Occupational and environmental health professor Corinne Peek-Asa is one of the co-authors.
“For as long as the data’s been collected, we’ve seen consisted increases for farmers compared to many other occupations,” Peek-Asa says. “And that’s persisted through very rough periods in the farm economy and even good economic times for farmers.” She says Wendy Ringgenberg of Des Moines University researched the statistics as part of her masters program.
The research across the country 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. Peek-Asa says some of the causes for the suicide in farmers are the same as for other groups.
“Being very isolated, not having a lot of access to health care resources, maybe mental health care resources, is an issue,” Peek-Asa says. So she says if a farmer is suffering from depressions, they may have less access to care for a mental health condition. Some of the issues are directly related to the demands of the occupation.
“Farming can be very stressful, it’s physically demanding, it requires a lot of knowledge, it can be financially stresssful. Those are things — especially financial stress — are things that may contribute to someone who may have already been thinking of a suicide,” Peek-Asa explains. Their findings were published in the Journal of Rural Health. Asa-Peek says they don’t want the study to overshadow the positive aspects of farming.
“All the authors are Iowans and we do believe that farming is an extremely valuable and rewarding occupation. So, we don’t in any way want this article to point negatively to farming as an occupation,” Peek-Asa says. “But I think it makes us think that wee need to dig a little deeper to find out what resources need to be more available to farmers.” She says they also need to let farmers know that the resources are there to help them get through tough situations.
She says farmers are extremely tough and it’s important to separate the notion of being tough from seeking help. “The smart thing to do when you need help is to seek help. So it doesn’t diminish your toughness in any way to have a period where you need some resources.” Peek-Asa says they
“We’re going to continue to look at some of the things we think are big underlying issues. Like how can we help encourage things like art and cultural rival in small communities. How can we have good resources for things like social networking, for exercising, for getting healthy food,” Peek-Asa says.
The survey found farmers in the west were more likely to commit suicide, at 43 percent of total farmer suicides, followed by the midwest at 37 percent, south at 13 percent, and northeast at six percent. Peek-Asa says they don’t have an individual breakdown on states, but will get that information in the future.
Kelley Donham, U-I professor emeritas in the College of Public Health and Marizen Ramirez a visiting associate professor in the U-I College of Public Health, also co-authroed the study.
Photo courtesy of the University of Iowa.