U.S. House bill addresses high risk of suicide among farmers

Legislation introduced in the U.S. House last week is aimed at making mental-health treatment more available for farmers and ranchers.

Stemming the Tide of Rural Economic Stress and Suicide (STRESS) Act, HR 5259, was introduced by Tom Emmer, R-Minn., to address the unacceptably high rate of suicide in the farm community.

“Those who work in agriculture face uniquely high-stress challenges ranging from social isolation to strong dependence on factors outside of their control. Combined with the incredible lack of mental health treatment available, our farmers have been left to suffer alone in the shadows without the help and care they need and deserve,” Emmer said in introducing the bill.

The bill would reauthorize the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network program, which was authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill but never funded.

Renewing that program would give states resources to provide mental-health services for farmers and ranchers, Emmer said.

National Farmers Union has long advocated such resources and said the legislation would provide vital assistance to farmers and ranchers who are struggling amid a five-year, 52 percent overall decrease in net farm Income.

“Farming and ranching is a highly stressful occupation. As the downturn in the farm community worsens, many producers are finding themselves in a state of financial crisis,” Roger Johnson, NFU president, said in a press statement.

Unfortunately, many lack access to the support they need in times of extreme duress, he said.

The National Young Farmers Coalition said introduction of the STRESS Act sends an important message to farm families that they are not alone.

“When these challenges are left unspoken, swept under the rug or stigmatized, our entire community is impacted,” Andrew Bahrenburg, the coalition’s national policy director, said in a press statement.

Mental health impacts all farmers and ranchers, and young farmers everywhere can experience the social isolation, financial stress and emotional fatigue that comes from pouring everything they have into their farms, he said.

“We need to do a better job of ensuring they have the resources and support to get through it,” he said.

The suicide crisis in farm country has been going on for some time, with many people pointing to the 1980 farm crisis as the real spike in agricultural suicide rates.

The suicide rate in the general U.S. population in 2014 was 13 per 100,000 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Suicide rates within the agricultural community are much higher.

While not weighted for the U.S. and limited to data from 17 states, CDC’s examination of more than 12,000 suicides in 2012 found the suicide rate in farming, fishing and forestry was 84.5 per 100,000 people in those occupations.

That group had the highest suicide rate among 22 occupational groups measured, followed by the construction and extraction industries at 53.3.

It was nearly triple the suicide rate of those in law enforcement and fire fighters, which was 30.5.

In addition, the rate of suicide in agriculture is more than double the rate in military veterans — 35.3 per 100,000 veterans according to the latest data by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

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