September is a month to shed light on an issue we aren’t talking enough about – mental health and suicide. September is National Suicide Prevention Month and National Suicide Prevention Week is September 8th through 14th. In agriculture, suicide rates are 1.5 times higher than the national average. It’s time to step up and create awareness around this issue.
Hard Times on the Farm
There’s no doubt farming is one of the hardest professions to be in. Weather conditions are poor in a lot of areas and plant 2019 was certainly a struggle for most of the United States. Milk prices are low and livestock industries are continually threatened by foreign animal disease.
The constant threat from sources outside of their control has left many farmers feeling helpless and hopeless. There are a lot of ways to look on the downside, but the bottom line stands, it is a hard time to be a farmer.
We continually talk about weather conditions, milk prices, livestock prices, seed prices, planting decisions and more. As agriculturalists we are really good at talking about our profession, but it’s time to talk about something else – mental health.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported suicide rates among agricultural workers has jumped 34 percent. The number increased from 12.9 suicides per 100,000 workers in 2000 to 17.3 per 100,000 workers in 2016. According to the CDC, suicides numbers in agriculture aren’t completley accurate because many are masked as farm accidents.
The CDC found a number of reasons why suicide rates among farmers and those who live in rural areas in general are higher than their urban counterparts.
Among those reasons, they found access to mental health is more sporadic. They also found rural populations tend to earn less, making it more challenging to access mental health.
Though the forces working against farmers can seem insurmountable, a growing effort based in Dodgeville aims to help farmers cope with stress and avoid suicide
Southwestern Wisconsin Community Action Program started a farmer suicide prevention project recently. The effort was prompted by an increase in stories about suicides or suicidal thoughts among farmers, said Wally Orzechowski, executive director.
“Farmers tend to be pretty isolated and pretty independent,” Orzechowski said. “When issues of mental health arise, they tend to just deal with it by themselves.”
The plan for the project is to develop a mobile crisis service. This would conduct suicide prevention training sessions and establish networks to address suicide within the region. The plan is a partnership with Suicide Prevention Coalition of Iowa County and will stretch from Eau Claire to Dubuque.
“The biggest part is to spread awareness, to say, ‘It is OK to talk about it,’” said Sue Springer Judd, who runs the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Iowa County, which also serves six nearby counties.
You’re Not Alone
Randy Roecker, 54, a dairy farmer in Loganville, said he became suicidal a decade ago when the Great Recession hit shortly after he invested millions to expand the farm started by his grandfather. Roecker went through medications and hospitalizations with what felt like no relief. However, he said counseling did help him.
“I’m doing better, but I’m still struggling every day,” said Roecker, whose farm milks about 325 cows on 800 acres. “We suffer alone in silence, is what we do.”
Farmer are the strong, but silent type. They suffer in silence and bear their own burdens so as not to bother anyone else.
“You feel like you’re in this pit, and you’re climbing to try to get out of it,” Roecker said. “We are all struggling so bad. My friends in the city, they have no idea what we’re going through. … Every load of milk that goes out, we’re losing money.”
In his darkest days, Roecker considered ending his life. He pictured his two children, who were minors at the time, standing by his casket. Thankfully, this prevented him from following through.
It’s easy to feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders and you are alone in the fight. However, it is important to remember there is a whole community of people feeling the same struggles you are. And it’s equally as important to remember it is okay to talk about it.
It’s okay to admit you’re feeling depressed and it’s okay to let people help you.
Though September is a time to bring awareness to mental health, we can’t leave it here. More and more outreach programs are being put in place to help struggling farmers. It is our job to spread awareness of these programs and help farmers get the help they need. It can be intimidating to talk about a topic of this nature, but we have to treat this as if it is life or death – because it is.