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Stress on the farm and strategies to help

By Staff | Feb 8, 2020



Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part series of articles that will discuss issues related to farm stress and information and resources that are available.

Someone you may know could be suffering potential detrimental effects due to the mounting pressures that go along with farming. Do you know what signs to look for? Can you help someone that could be potentially suicidal?

Last month, the Iowa Farm Bureau hosted a webinar where David Brown, behavioral health state specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach provided those signs to look for, steps in helping someone and resources that are available.

“Given the current stress levels in the agriculture community, it is really important that we have some more information about what signs of stress to look for and how we can help each other,” he said. “You may have the opportunity to help a friend, a family member or someone you work with and we want you to be able to do that.”

Risk factors for suicide

Suicide, Brown said is a very difficult subject one that can have a far reaching impact on families and communities.

“We know that suicide is a big concern in the rural areas because it occurs at a much higher rate than in urban areas,” he said.

Other risk factors associated with someone being suicidal, Brown said are gender and age as well.

“Those three risk factors, being in rural areas, being a male and being an older male – if you look at those three factors, that probably describes many of our agricultural producers across the state of Iowa. It’s kind of like a triple whammy as far as that type of risk of suicide in that population,” he said.

One risk factor for suicide is drinking and alcohol abuse.

“People that use alcohol and drugs have a more impaired judgment and are much more impulsive,” he said. “We also know that heavy alcohol users are five times more likely to die by suicide and alcohol has been found in the blood stream of 29 percent of all Americans who have died by suicide. This is a major risk factor when you are looking at suicidal behavior.”

Brown said individuals who are not willing, or if there are barriers to seeking treatment or help is another risk factor.

“In rural parts of the country, there is less access to mental health treatment or even physical medical treatment,” he said.

Another risk factor is loss. This can include loss of a relationship such as breakups or death; financial losses or farm losses.

Also, many physical illnesses are also associated with an increased risk in suicide especially if they include pain.

Warning signs

What should you be looking for if you are concerned about someone becoming suicidal?

“Individuals will often express warning signs before attempting suicide,” said Brown. “Approximately 90 percent of all individuals will give some type of sign close to them that they may be considering suicide.”

One of those warning signs, Brown said could be a comment, message, a profile something posted on social media about thinking about suicide or talking about death.

Brown said another sign could be them angrily voicing about getting even with another family member, friend or possibly their banker.

You may also notice the person drinking a lot more or talking about other substance abuse and they may report hopelessness or a feeling that he or she has no other options.

There could be a dramatic change in mood as well.

“This could include a positive change,” said Brown. “Maybe they say ‘I’m feeling so much better,’ but this may not be a good sign. Especially if they have been down for quite awhile, because the person may have resolved at this point to take their life and now has a sense of peace and resolution.”

Verbalizations are another warning sign, such as “I have no reason to live.”

“Having a sense of purpose in life, or reason to live helps to cope with difficult situations and brings a sense of wellbeing,” he said.

A person may also talk about shooting themselves or others.

“Obviously that is a very direct warning sign,” said Brown. “Or maybe they say ‘I just wish I could go to sleep and not wake up.’ Whether it is a very direct statement or indirect statement, both have to be taken seriously.”

Another sign of concern is when a person starts giving cherished items away, or closing accounts and making other final preparations.

“They may be saying ‘more land might be available for you to farm next year.’ That’s giving away something ahead of time that is something you need to be concerned about,” he said.

A very dangerous sign to be aware of, Brown said is if a person starts searching for lethal means, such as firearms ore medications.

Factors that reduce suicide risks

Brown said good mental care and support for seeking help can reduce suicide risks.

“We know one of the big factors in prevention of suicide is that individuals are much more likely to seek help if a close family member or friend suggests it,” he said. “Any type of support or encouragement from friends and family to seek help is very important.”

Any type of support and social connections are also a very protective factor against suicide. These connections, Brown said could mean church or coffee groups, for example.

Also, support from an ongoing healthcare relationship is also important.

“We know in rural parts of the country, that individuals typically access mental healthcare through their primary care providers,” he said. “If individuals are going for their yearly physicals that is certainly an important part of being a productive factor as far as suicide.”

Brown said decision making and problem solving can also help individuals find positive options rather than suicide.

“Some individuals have very strong spiritual beliefs that will help them experience greater help and meaning as well as discouraging suicide,” he said.

Next week, Brown will discuss strategies to use in helping someone you fear may be suicidal.

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