Let's Stop the Scourge of Suicide

Seven people who work in agriculture die by suicide every day—2,704 people annually. They are our family members, friends and neighbors down the road. You know some of them, and so do I.

Those startling figures are based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study released in 2016. The CDC study of 40,000 suicides reported in the U.S. in 2012—the most recent year that such statistics are available—shows that the rate for agriculture workers is 84.5 suicides per 100,000 (compared to 13 per 100,000 in the general population.) There are 3.2 million people in the U.S. that the USDA classifies as employed by agriculture.

Why are so many farmers, ranchers, and ag workers choosing suicide? Lots of reasons, some of which are related to money, says Kansas farmer and writer Layne Ehmke in his article, “Why My Fellow Farmers Are Killing Themselves.” Ehmke says for too many farmers today, “There’s no way to make a living growing food in America, and the poverty and shame are driving some to suicide.”

Many people in the business of agriculture also face a cultural mindset that says they should tough out their problems alone rather than seek mental-health treatment. They worry about the stigma that’s attached to the very help that could save them: “What will the neighbors say when they find out? How will they treat me when I run into them at the grocery store or at the kids’ basketball game?”

My colleague and Top Producer Editor, Sara Schafer, provides additional insights on the suicide trends in rural America in her article, “Help Curb Increasing Suicide Rates in Rural America.”

Everyone is affected. Some people who take their own lives mistakenly believe their family and friends will be better off without them, notes Jen Simon, a New Jersey based freelancer. “(Depression) tricks you into believing that your death wouldn’t devastate your loved ones but liberate them,” she writes. “It doesn’t feel like you’re abandoning them; it feels like you’re freeing them from the burden that is you and your illness. You feel like you are doing the world a service by leaving it.”

That’s so untrue. The pain and burden you feel transfers to those left behind, to your family and friends. Your final decision is also likely to cause them to shoulder shame and guilt because they were unable to help you.

Suicide is a tough topic to broach, but we need to address it proactively for those we love as well as for ourselves. If you are in distress, please know there is hope and that treatment can work. You can find numerous online resources on how to prevent suicide from the CDC or by calling the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

Along with those resources, Kim Ruocco, the wife of a Marine who died by suicide, offers four suggestions for your consideration:

  1. GET HELP -- If you or someone in your life is suffering or having thoughts of suicide, get help. Don’t play around with those thoughts; suicide can be a sneaky thing. At first, you think of it briefly, then it becomes an option, and then it can become the only thing you can think of to end your pain. You DON’T want to have a plan for suicide on a day when the perfect storm of problems happens.
  1. TREATMENT WORKS -- You don’t have to understand counseling or how it works; think of it as adding to your skills. The sooner you get help, the higher chance you have of getting better and getting back to your old self.
  1. TALK TO PEERS OR A LEADER YOU TRUST -- Challenges are part of life. Emotional struggles, physical struggles, breakups are part of life. Chances are your peers have been there. Chances are they need to talk, too.
  1. DON’T LEAVE SOMEONE IN DISTRESS ALONE -- If you see a change in someone you care about, ASK, CARE, ESCORT.