The dark underbelly of the current dairy crisis is that some farmers will see no way out but to attempt to take their own lives.
An even more chilling statistic: For every suicide that results in death, there are 25 failed attempts. But there are concrete actions you can take as a family member or friend to reduce the risks, says Cassandra Linkenmeyer, Minnesota area director for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. She spoke recently at a Farm Bureau rural health symposium.
“Suicide is a health issue,” Linkenmeyer says. “Nine out of 10 people who die by suicide have mental health issues. It can be treated, prevented and corrected.”
TALK SAVES LIVES
Seeking help for depression is often stigmatized, particularly in rural communities. But depression and thoughts of suicide have nothing to do with strength of character. Autopsies of the brains of individuals in deep states of depression show there are actual physical differences and changes present in those brains. As a result, their responses to stress are different from people who are mentally healthy.
Linkenmeyer’s main message: “Talk saves lives.” That means it’s important for family and friends to have conversations, however difficult they might be, with those they suspect are dealing with depression.
“Most people who attempt suicide are ambivalent about death, but they often reach a crisis point in their lives and are desperate to escape the unbearable pain. Their brains can enter a state of tunnel vision, where nothing else matters to them,” she says.
KNOW THE WARNING SIGNS
Suicide warning signs include talking about suicide, such as wanting to end their lives, believing they are a burden on their families or no longer having a reason to live. Watch for mood and behavioral changes such as increased alcohol or drug use, insomnia or reckless behavior.
Also limit access to lethal means, such as firearms and vehicles. “If they don’t have access to a method of suicide they’ve been fixated on, such as a gun or car, they often don’t look for another method,” Linkenmeyer explains.
Talking is essential to determine their state of mind. “Talking to them is prevention. Listen. Express concern. And ask them directly about suicide,” Linkenmeyer says.
The critical thing is to acknowledge their pain, and to avoid minimizing their feelings or offering advice on fixing the problem, she says. If you suspect they might act on their suicidal thoughts, it’s imperative to get help immediately. “Twenty-five percent of suicide survivors say they made the decision to attempt to take their lives within five minutes,” she says.
“If you think they might make an attempt soon, stay with the person, secure or remove lethal means, and escort them to mental health services,” Linkenmeyer says. If a clinic isn’t nearby or they refuse to go, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or use the crisis text line at 741-741. In an emergency, call 911.
Finally, Linkenmeyer urges everyone to be aware and watchful of family members, friends and neighbors during these stressful times. “Trust your gut. Assume you are the only person who is going to reach out to them,” she says. “Talk is life.”
Note: This article appears in the July issue of Dairy Herd Management.