It’s easy to think suicide’s horrific grip will never touch your family or farm team. But, this tragic cause of death claims 2,704 people who work in agriculture each year, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control.
The bleak farm financial picture may leave some farmers to believe they have no way out but to attempt to take their own lives. Some farmers have, and others are likely considering it.
“Do not ignore signs of distress or suicide from your friends, family members or neighbors,” says Glennis McClure, University of Nebraska Extension farm and ranch management analyst. “Let them know that you are concerned about them and ask them more about their situation.”
Most people who are facing challenging times and considering suicide show warning signs, McClure explains. According to the CDC, these signs can include:
- Talking about wanting to die
- Talking about feeling hopeless, trapped or in unbearable pain
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
- Acting anxious, agitated or recklessly
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Withdrawing or feeling isolated
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
- Displaying extreme mood swings
“Farmers who have had little or no experience living away from the farm or their rural communities are especially vulnerable,” says Val Farmer, a clinical psychologist and author who has specialized in rural mental health during his 30-year career. “When they are confused and don’t know what to do, they retreat and hide their feelings of self-doubt, humiliation and inadequacy from themselves and others.”
If you suspect suicidal risk with someone in your family or team, Farmer and McClure suggest the following steps.
Immediately seek help. Do not leave the person alone. Call 911 for help or take them to the hospital or a health care provider.
Remain calm. The suicidal person will best respond to an authoritative and caring person who projects a sense of strength. “Be accepting and communicate that he or she is a special, worthwhile human being,” Farmer says.
Be a good listener. “It’s a myth that talking about suicide with someone may give them an idea to carry it out,” McClure says. “Asking someone about potential suicidal thoughts or plans they may have is one of the most helpful things you can do for someone that is suicidal.” Help him or her identify and express their pain and hurt. Don’t argue, debate or lecture.
Don’t dismiss what is being said. Don’t be shocked by what you hear or stress the pain or embarrassment a suicide would cause the family. “Don’t offer ‘cheap’ reassurance that things will be better,” Farmer says. “Don’t promise confidentiality.”
Ask open-ended questions. Draw the suicidal person out. In verbalizing thoughts, the suicidal person begins to gain a sense of control over their emotions. Ask: What are you doing now about your situation? What have you done? How did that work out? Who might be helpful to you?
Ask specifically about suicidal plans. Mentally note how specific the plans are, Farmer suggests. Assess the lethality of the method and the availability of the means. The more specific the plans, the more lethal and available the means, the greater the risk of suicide.
Be available. Share your willingness to be available to talk and listen. Don’t over promise something you can’t deliver. Be honest and realistic about your schedule.
Take a concrete step. Set a time to talk again. Arrange for an appointment or a next meeting, Farmer says. “Get him or her to agree to a course of action and commit to it. Your voice of authority and willingness to assume control is welcome.”
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.
McClure presented a webinar about the importance of wellness in tough farming times. View the recording and download related resources.
You Can Help Prevent Farmer Suicides