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Suicide study shows farmers at risk

PUBLISHED: 05:58 26 February 2003 | UPDATED: 16:20 24 February 2010

FARMERS are more twice as likely to think about suicide than the general population, a new study has found.

The chairman of the National Farmers' Union (NFU) in Suffolk said he was "not surprised" to hear the claims – but added the community had "pulled together" through recent times of crisis.

FARMERS are more twice as likely to think about suicide than the general population, a new study has found.

The chairman of the National Farmers' Union (NFU) in Suffolk said he was "not surprised" to hear the claims – but added the community had "pulled together" through recent times of crisis.

Researchers said their findings showed the need to monitor farmers' mental health in the aftermath of the foot-and-mouth outbreak.

The study, published in the Journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, looked at 425 farmers from Hereford, Norwich and Preston.

They all filled in a questionnaire between March and July 1999, designed to assess their mental health.

The results were compared with those of almost 10,000 private householders who completed the same questionnaire in 1993 for a national mental health survey.

Most farmers were male, worked full-time, were typically aged 51 and had been in their current job for 16 years or more.

They complained most about fatigue, irritability and sleep problems – similar to those who took part in the national survey.

But 6% of farmers reported having poor health, which was lower than among the national survey, 3% said they thought life was not worth living and just under 1% had thought about suicide.

When set against low rates of reported depression, farmers were more than twice as likely as the rest of the population to think life was not worth living.

One in 10 said their financial situation was difficult or very difficult and 14% had debts they were unable to meet.

Stephen Rash, Suffolk chairman of the National Farmers' Union (NFU), said he was "not surprised" by the findings of the study.

"Traditionally, farming has always had quite a high rate of suicide. Farmers tend to work long hours on their own and, as economic pressures become more intensive, they employ less and less people to help out," he said.

"There are enormous pressures on a family farm and the farmer is the person left holding the baby when it goes bankrupt. There is a certain amount of shame in that.

"It's always said farmers have the location and the means to commit suicide – so I'm not surprised."

He added that spirits did not appear to sink desperately low during the days of swine fever and foot-and-mouth disease.

"In times of a crisis, farms tend to pull together, there were a lot of phone lines set up and email contact made," said Mr Rash.

"Now, in a time without a crisis, people have gone back to their own individual places and the Blitz spirit has gone out of things."

The researchers, led by Dr Hollie Thomas, at the University of Wales College of Medicine, said seeing so much death among livestock during foot-and-mouth could encourage farmers to take a more fatalistic view of their own life.

They called for more research to be conducted among farmers in the aftermath of the recent crisis.


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