Perhaps you’ve heard the expression “dirt poor” before? That is evidently how farmers in the U.S. and many other countries regard themselves – and this truth is killing them. More precisely, years of low income combined with higher prices are driving those who till the soil to the desperate act of taking their own lives.
A report published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that, For the first time in history, farmers now surpass veterans in deaths by suicide. The suicide rate for farmers is higher than any other demographic group. CBS News gives the real numbers:
“The suicide rate in the field of farming, fishing, and forestry is 84.5 per 100,000 people — more than five times that of the population as a whole.”
Newsweek gave the average rate of suicide among American adults as 15.2 per 100,000 in 2014. But France, China, India, and the United Kingdom (UK) are also reporting suicide rates for farmers that are higher than the general population.
Purdue Professor of Agriculture Chris Hurt said that farmers’ income for the past three years has returned to levels seen in the early 2000s – 15 years ago and more. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that income from the average farm will be 35 percent below what it was in 2013.
Bad weather and fickle commodity prices have also taken their toll on many farmers. Now, farmers are also facing the consequences of trade tariffs being proposed and imposed by certain foreign countries.
Reduced income has forced many farmers to take a second job for an additional income stream – and employer group health benefits. Anyone who works more than one job understands the extreme stress that results from less time with family and friends, less sleep, and more responsibilities – not to mention the additional labor itself.
An interesting facet of this story is the proposed solution: develop federal-level mental health and counseling programs accessible to farmers. The model is based on similar services provided to American veterans.
Unfortunately, even the Military Times acknowledges that “many recently separated servicemembers aren’t getting the mental health care they need.”
The federal (VA) programs are failing to prepare veterans to “move ahead to successful civilian lives.”
So does a federal mental health program for farmers really sound all that good? Because it’s looking like just another pork barrel boondoggle scam to be funded – as usual – by the U.S. taxpayers. Furthermore, it just isn’t reasonable to let the bureaucracy that created the problem (federal government) solve it.
As for mental health counseling for everyone considering suicide, of course, that is a great idea. But doesn’t the real solution to farmers’ poverty lie in economics rather than psychology? Check out this “no duh” list of reasons why professional mental health experts think farmers are taking their own lives at a much higher rate than Americans in other lines of work, from the Newsweek article:
- Many are reluctant to seek help
- Farmers tend to own guns
- Farms are often far from mental health care centers and professionals
- The cost of land, equipment and livestock feed has gone up
- Pesticide exposure can cause depression
Pesticide exposure causes depression – really?? So does being three months late in your mortgage and car payments. Honestly, have you ever read such a lame and self-evident list that undoubtedly came from a costly “professional” investigation?
What about all the other people working multiple jobs, neglecting their children and their spiritual selves, and feeling dirt poor? Will all of them get a federal program, too?
Instead of letting pop psychology run national policy, what if we tried some common sense and applied economic remedies to help farmers where it counts – in their wallets?
There are already some existing resources available for American farmers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) lists federal grants and loans available today for farmers and ranchers.
FoodTank mentions ten ways we can all support our local farmers:
- Shop at a farmers market
- Get informed
- Tell policymakers
- Be hands-on
- Share with friends
- Join a Co-op
- Buy your favorite foods locally
- Spread the word
Among these resources are the Farmer Resource Network, mediation resources, disaster resources, and a drought monitor.
But what if the burdens of life seem overpowering, and alternatives seem few and far between? You do not need to suffer in silence because many people sincerely want to help out.
If you are a farmer who needs to talk, the Farm Aid Hotline is open for assistance Monday through Friday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Eastern Time:
If you are not a farmer and need to talk, the National Suicide Hotline is open for assistance 24/7:
Remember the wise words of Native American Shawnee warrior and chief Tecumseh:
“A single twig breaks, but the bundle of twigs is strong.”