Farming and ranching are considered two of the most stressful occupations, both physically and mentally. Unique factors associated with agricultural work may contribute to poor mental health outcomes and even suicide. In Canada, producers (farmers and ranchers) are especially prone to mental health challenges such as depression and anxiety, and they may have less resiliency because of the stressors they experience (Jones-Bitton et al., 2020). While much of the research on resiliency focuses on farmers specifically, some of the factors farmers face are similar to what other producers may face.
Why are farmers at risk?
Certain factors can place some people at a higher risk for suicide than others, and when multiple risk factors outweigh the factors that build resiliency, there is an increased likelihood that a person may think about suicide (Sharam et al., 2021).
- Financial uncertainty. Farmers face financial uncertainty due to factors outside their control, which can cause significant stress. They rely on favourable weather for lucrative crops, they may have debt due to the high cost of running a farm, and they are affected by economic factors such as tariffs and trade agreements.
- Barriers to mental health services. Because farmers (and other producers) often live in rural and remote areas with small populations, they have limited access to mental health care. While emerging technologies and telehealth may help to mitigate these hurdles (Rojas et al., 2020), over half of Canada’s producers have no access to high-speed internet, which is a barrier to accessing virtual services (Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, 2019). Even with access to mental health care, farmers may be reluctant to seek help. Not only is there is stigma about doing so in agricultural communities as it is often seen as a sign of weakness, there may be concerns about confidentiality in smaller areas, where a person’s neighbour could also be their counsellor.
- Isolation. Farming and other agricultural work is often done in isolation. These communities can be small and tight knit but also sparsely populated, which means fewer resources that can offer them support and connection. While self-reliance and autonomy may appeal to some farmers, isolation may lead them to feel as though they’re all alone in their struggles. People feeling isolated or depressed need to know they don’t have to feel that way. Support is available.
- Blurred distinction between work and home life. Producers often live where they work and can therefore feel as though they should always be working. They may also feel pressure to work while the weather is favourable. These factors can make it hard for them to de-stress and relax. In addition, since many agricultural operations are family enterprises, family dynamics, generational differences, and farm transitioning can increase tensions in their work and home life.
- Easy access to firearms. Farmers and ranchers may have easy access to firearms, which are the most lethal suicide method. (Arnautovska et al., 2014; Morgan et al., 2016; Jones-Bitton et al., 2020)
What can communities do to help reduce suicide among farmers?
- Rural and remote communities can ensure access to the mental health supports that are available in-person, online, or by phone. Make people aware of these supports through information campaigns, including campaigns about suicide prevention, that seek to reduce stigma and increase help seeking and offers of help.
- Communities can create opportunities for social connection by inviting people to get involved in an activity.
- Supports and services tailored to farmers’ mental health should be developed as part of a national strategy (Jones-Bitton, n.d.).
- Healthcare providers can identify people (particularly men) who may be thinking about suicide by being alert to subtle cues that may indicate they are struggling, such as body language and tone of voice. Better training is needed to ensure that these professionals are able to detect depression (Ogrodniczuk & Oliffe, 2011; Paraschakis et al., 2016).