Two decades after the U.S. farm crisis, the suicide rate among American farmers remains much higher than among other workers, a new study finds.
“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,” said study co-author Corinne Peek-Asa. She is a professor of occupational and environmental health at the University of Iowa College of Public Health.
Peek-Asa and her colleagues found that 230 U.S. farmers died by suicide between 1992 and 2010.
The annual suicide rate among farmers ranged between 0.36 and 0.95 per 100,000 during those years, according to the study.
Meanwhile, the highest annual suicide rate for all other occupations during that time never exceeded 0.19 per 100,000, the researchers said.
Suicide rates among American farmers were higher in the 1980s — when more than 1,000 farmers took their own lives because they were losing their farms to foreclosure. But, the new numbers are still far too high, said Peek-Asa.
Suicide rates differed by region in the current study period, the researchers found. Growers in the West had the highest rate, accounting for 43 percent of all farmer suicides, followed by those in the Midwest (37 percent), the South (13 percent), and the Northeast (6 percent).
One big difference between farmers and people in most other fields of work is that farming is more than a job, it’s a major part of a farmer’s identity, Peek-Asa said. When their farm is in trouble, many farmers consider it personal failure.
“They struggle with their ability to carve out the role they see for themselves as farmers. They can’t take care of their family; they feel like they have fewer and fewer options and can’t dig themselves out,” she said in a university news release. “Eventually, suicide becomes an option.”
Peek-Asa said potential policy solutions to stem these high suicide rates include improving the economics and social networks in rural areas. Better access to health care and mental health services are also necessary, she added.
The findings were published recently in the Journal of Rural Health.
The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more on suicide.