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Suicide rate among farmers as high as it is among veterans

Farming
Posted at 2:27 PM, Oct 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-13 15:44:33-04

If you or someone you know in the agriculture community is struggling, call the AgriStress helpline at 833-897-AGRI (2474). It is staffed and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Even with all the talk surrounding mental health recently, ranchers and farmers say they are feeling left out of the conversation despite a suicide rate as high as the one veterans have.

27.4 out of every 100,000 agricultural producers commit suicide according to the CDC.

“You’re out here kind of remote and then, you become more accustomed to being alone,” said Hugh Turk, a third-generation rancher that lives in Kaycee, Wyoming, a town of 250 people about an hour north of Casper.

Over his life, Turk has battled anxiety and depression brought on by many of the things that plague his community. There is the legacy of the farm that oftentimes has been passed down by previous generations, the variability of weather each season, and the isolation of being in some of the most rural parts of the United States.

“You get kind of loaded with self-doubt, and I think that’s sort of why it’s linked to depression,” said Turk. “Depression is sort of like this beast that its whole goal is to preserve itself and it keeps you from going and seeking help and it keeps sucking you down.”

Wyoming has the highest suicide rate in the country, with 30.5 deaths for every 100,000 people, more than double the national average of 13 per every 100,000 people, according to the CDC.

“The same thing that makes somebody successful in agriculture— the independence, the long hours, that ability to want to do things for yourself— that same kind of personality makes it difficult for people to seek help,” said Lucy Pauley, a coordinator with the Wyoming Department of Agriculture.

In mid-July, Wyoming became one of five states to launch its new AgriStress helpline. Much like the national 988 number, it aims to provide 24/7 mental health help and support; this time for ag producers who are often isolated with the weight of legacy, variability, and toxic ideas of how to deal with it.

Along with Missouri, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia, Wyoming’s AgriStress line is starting to gain more popularity with each passing month, which are significant baby steps for an issue that has been mired in decades of stigma.

“People are starting to recognize what a serious problem it is, and you hear more often people are being more open about dying by suicide,” said Turk.