Newsweek’s cover story in early April didn’t mince any words.
“Death on the Farm,” the cover headline read. “Farmers are a dying breed, in part because they’re killing themselves in record numbers.”
In reality, farmer suicide is nothing new.
According to Newsweek’s article, people began talking about farming suicides during the 1980s farm crisis. By 1985, 250 farms across the country went into foreclosure every hour, pushing many farmers to resort to suicide.
Author Terezia Farkas notes, suicide rates among farmers are the highest of any occupation. Male farmers have a suicide rate approximately two times that of the general population.
The problem isn’t confined to American soil. In France, a farmer succumbs to suicide every two days. India has reported more than 270,000 farmer suicides since 1995. Similar statistics exist for China, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Australia – the list goes on.
Robert Fetsch, a retired professor of human development and family studies at Colorado State University, explained there are profound social reasons farmers are reluctant to seek help.
"Farmers are extremely self-sufficient and independent," he told Newsweek. "They tend to work around whatever they have, because they are so determined to keep moving."
For me, Newsweek’s story hits too close to home, as I’m sure it does for thousands of other families.
In the early, quiet morning hours of July 30, 2012, my father-in-law decided to end his life. His spiral into the darkness of depression and financial turmoil was masked by his gruff exterior and went virtually unnoticed by our family. Even now, we’re left questioning if we had just seen the signs or spoken up whether he would still be alive today.
Next week is National Suicide Prevention Week, and I urge you to do what you can to prevent any more farmer suicides. Now is the time to reach out, especially to those around you who may be experiencing more stress than usual. Don't assume they are just "in a funk" and will snap out of it.
Listen to them – watch for the subtle signs that something isn’t right. Don’t wait for the “right” time to reach out to them. By the time the time is “right,” it may be too late. No one else should have to endure the pain of losing a loved one to suicide.
There is a wealth of information available to help detect the warning signs of suicide and to learn how to speak to those who may be suicidal. If you need help, call 1-800-273-8255 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.