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Posted at: Jun 14, 2017, 1:32 AM; last updated: Jun 14, 2017, 10:29 AM (IST)

Isolation, fiscal stress behind farm suicides, finds US study

Isolation, fiscal stress behind farm suicides, finds US study

Washington, June 13

Poor access to quality healthcare, isolation and financial stress put farmers at a high risk of suicide, a new US study suggests. Researchers at the University of Iowa have found that the number of suicides among farmers and farmhand in the US has remained stubbornly high since the end of the 1980s farm crisis, much higher than workers in many other industries.

They examined suicides and homicides among farmers and agricultural workers across the US 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 — well above that of workers in other occupations.

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The 1992 to 2010 rate is not as high as the 1980s when more than 1,000 farmers took their life because they were losing their farms to foreclosure, but Corinne Peek-Asa, professor in the UI College of Public Health, said the new numbers were still excessive.

“Occupational factors, such as poor access to quality healthcare, isolation, and financial stress interact with life factors to continue to place farmers at a disproportionately high risk of suicide,” she said. As in the 1980s, financial issues continued to cause some suicides, especially during economic crises or extreme weather, Peek-Asa said.

Farmers face an array of other stresses too — physical isolation from a social network, leading to loneliness, physical pain from arduous work and lack of available healthcare resources in rural areas, especially mental healthcare. They have access to lethal means because many own weapons. The rifle they use to chase off coyotes can easily be turned on themselves.

“Farmers are different from workers in most other fields in that their work is a significant part of their identity, not just a job. When the farm faces difficulties, many see it as a sign of personal failure. They struggle with their ability to carve out the role they see for themselves as farmers. They feel like they have fewer and fewer options and cannot dig themselves out,” explained Peek-Asa in a study published in the Journal of Rural Health. — PTI

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