Quiet streets on a Saturday afternoon in Onaga, Kansas, population 700. Photo: Audra Mulkern / EHRP

By Debbie Weingarten
6 December 2017

(EHRP) – It is dark in the workshop, but what light there is streams in patches through the windows. Cobwebs coat the wrenches, the cans of spray paint and the rungs of an old wooden chair where Matt Peters used to sit. A stereo plays country music, left on by the renter who now uses the shop.

“It smells so good in here,” I say. “Like …”

“Men, working,” finishes Ginnie Peters.

We inhale. “Yes.”

Ginnie pauses at the desk where she found her husband Matt’s letter on the night he died.

“My dearest love,” it began, and continued for pages. “I have torment in my head.”

On the morning of his last day, 12 May 2011, Matt stood in the kitchen of their farmhouse.

“I can’t think,” he told Ginnie. “I feel paralyzed.”

It was planting season, and stress was high. Matt worried about the weather and worked around the clock to get his crop in the ground on time. He hadn’t slept in three nights and was struggling to make decisions.

“I remember thinking ‘I wish I could pick you up and put you in the car like you do with a child,’” Ginnie says. “And then I remember thinking … and take you where? Who can help me with this? I felt so alone.”

Ginnie felt an “oppressive sense of dread” that intensified as the day wore on. At dinnertime, his truck was gone and Matt wasn’t answering his phone. It was dark when she found the letter. “I just knew,” Ginnie says. She called 911 immediately, but by the time the authorities located his truck, Matt had taken his life. […]

“Farming has always been a stressful occupation because many of the factors that affect agricultural production are largely beyond the control of the producers,” wrote Rosmann in the journal Behavioral Healthcare. “The emotional wellbeing of family farmers and ranchers is intimately intertwined with these changes.”

Last year, a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that people working in agriculture – including farmers, farm laborers, ranchers, fishers, and lumber harvesters – take their lives at a rate higher than any other occupation. The data suggested that the suicide rate for agricultural workers in 17 states was nearly five times higher compared with that in the general population.

After the study was released,Newsweek reported that the suicide death rate for farmers was more than double that of military veterans. This, however, could be an underestimate, as the data collected skipped several major agricultural states, including Iowa. Rosmann and other experts add that the farmer suicide rate might be higher, because an unknown number of farmers disguise their suicides as farm accidents.

The US farmer suicide crisis echoes a much larger farmer suicide crisis happening globally: an Australian farmer dies by suicide every four days; in the UK, one farmer a week takes his or her own life; in France, one farmer dies by suicide every two days; in India, more than 270,000 farmers have died by suicide since 1995. […]

In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In the UK the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org. [more]

Why are America's farmers killing themselves in record numbers?



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