We Have a Problem

Depression and other forms of mental illness can make sufferers feel trapped and hopeless.

Depression and other forms of mental illness can make sufferers feel trapped and hopeless. Photo by Melissa Beck, copyright 2016.

Melissa Beck, editor

We in agriculture have a problem and we need to address it. Farmers are killing themselves at almost double the rate of the general population and have surpassed the suicide rate of veterans. The latest Centers for Disease Control report, “Suicide Rates by Occupational Group” shows persons involved in the vocations of farming, forestry and fishing have the highest rates of suicide when compared to other occupations. The CDC also has reported that 17 percent of Americans experience some degree of depression annually.

I’ve already examined the reasons farming is a tough gig here.

Let’s explore other reasons farmers may be resorting to suicide. First, and this isn’t unique to farmers, there is still a stigma associated with mental illness which makes it hard to acknowledge and seek help. Unfortunately, we have a long way to go in terms of viewing mental illness as a disease instead of a personality flaw. In our society it is more acceptable to discuss erectile dysfunction than depression. Couple this with a reluctance to go to the doctor for any ailment, which is common among farmers, and it becomes clear why they may not be getting the help they need when faced with mental illness.

Many may not even realize what is going on, explaining it away as tiredness, or trying to “outrun” it. This is where family and friends’ support in addressing the problem becomes important. Changes in personality, such as irritability, mood swings, tiredness and talking about killing themselves are some of the warning signs. Here is a list of things to watch for.

What can you do for a loved one who is struggling with depression? First, educate yourself. Change your mindset about depression and other forms of mental illness. Having dealt with depression in my own family, it was much easier to face the problem when I had taken these steps. Next, get professional help for your loved one and yourself. Treat it like any other life-threatening disease, go to the professionals for help. You wouldn’t ignore a malignant tumor, or try to “outrun” diabetes, take depression and mental illness just as seriously as these diseases. Here is a resource to help you prepare a safety plan for you family dealing with a depressed or suicidal loved one.  If you need help, or need support getting help for someone else reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline here or call them at 1-800-237-8255 (talk).

Continue to show love and support for the person struggling with depression. If you can’t get the depressed or suicidal person to accept help, enlist the support of others, such as family, friends or clergy. A diagnosis of depression doesn’t have to be the end of your story. Depression is often successfully treated with medication and cognitive behavioral therapy. Remember, you’re not alone. Open up about your struggles and you’ll be surprised how many of us have been where you’re standing, either personally or in dealing with the depression of a loved one, and are willing to give you the support you need.


To Top