WSU Extension suicide prevention website

A Washington State University Extension office has created a bilingual website mandated by state lawmakers and pushed forward by the belief that farmers have a high suicide rate.

The website, still being developed, posts national suicide-prevention toll-free numbers to call or text, and a mental health self-assessment.

The website is timely as some farmers encounter economic challenges, said WSU Skagit County Extension Director Don McMoran.

“I think it’s time we step up our game,” he said. “This is a tool we can use to get information out.”

The Legislature last year created a task force on preventing suicide in the agricultural industry. The task force recommended that WSU Skagit County host a pilot project. The lawmakers appropriated $485,000.

At the time, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study reported that “farming, forestry and fishing” had a far higher rate of suicide than any other occupational group. Since then, the CDC has retracted the study and reported a much lower suicide rate for farm managers and farmworkers.

Legislators also heard testimony about individual suicides. Looking at the causes of suicide, the task force agreed with the CDC’s original report that financial pressures and the lack of counseling in rural areas were particular concerns for the agricultural industry.

The co-chairman of the task force, dairy farmer Jay Gordon, who represented the Dairy Products Commission, said that he’s pleased with the progress of the pilot project. “Now, we’ll just see how it goes,” he said.

A public-private partnership called Farm Family Support Network offered free family and business counseling to Washington farmers in the mid-2000s. The effort eventually ran out of money.

The WSU website has been online for about a month and as of Thursday had been visited 264 times, McMoran said. Publicity about the website has been word-of-mouth, he said.

The CDC study on suicides by occupation looked at deaths in 17 states in 2012 and 2015. The states included Oregon, but not Washington. The CDC said the 17 states were not representative of the entire country.

The CDC said farmers were misclassified in the original report. Under the revised rankings, the suicide rate for farming, forestry and fishing dropped to ninth among 22 occupational groups.

The revised report estimated the suicide rate among farmers, ranchers and other agricultural managers at 32.2 per 100,000 workers in 2015. Among farmworkers, the rate was 17.3 per 100,000 workers.

The CDC said it could not estimate the suicide rate for women in agriculture because too few were reported.

The occupational group with the highest male suicide rate in 2015 was construction and extraction, with 53.2 suicides per 100,000 workers.

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