There is an epidemic spreading across the fields and ranches in our country — American farmers are taking their own lives in record numbers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are 84.5 suicides per 100,000 people in the farming industry. Although farmers make up only 1 percent of the United States population, they have the highest suicide rate of any occupational group.
A recently published article tells the stories of families who have been affected by this crisis. Each person recounts the weight of the stress of running the farm leading up to the death. Long hours, unpredictable weather, loss of land, hunger, and poverty were common themes among these stories, and countless stories across the country.
Strain and struggle rooted in history
Those who lived through the Farm Crisis in the 1980s may remember the launch of Farm Aid by Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp. They organized the first Farm Aid concert in 1985 to raise awareness about the loss of family farms and to raise funds to keep farm families on the land.
Many of the complex policies that contributed to that crisis are still in place today, making farming uncertain and increasingly stressful. Farm income has dropped drastically in the past five years, and it is not uncommon for many farmers to just barely make ends meet. Imagine the strain of maintaining a farm that has been in your family for generations, working endless hours every day of the week, and yet still operating in the red. These factors and more put immense pressure on our rural farming communities.
These stressors are something Arizona farmers know all too well. 26.2 percent of rural Arizonans live in poverty. The agriculture industry in Arizona has witnessed negative profits since 1989. Between 1997 and 2007, Arizona lost 35% of its total farm land.
To make matters worse, there is a glaring lack of support and resources for these important members of our communities. Each and every one of us is dependent upon farmers to ensure a stable and affordable food supply, and we need to protect farmers and their livelihoods.
Although farmer suicide rates are alarmingly high, there is little being done to track them in Arizona. This is especially concerning in a state where there are over 30,000 farmers, and in a state with one of the highest suicide rates in the country.
Protecting our farmers and the future of agriculture
At the national level, there is more progress being made. There is a push to include behavioral health funding in the 2018 Farm Bill. The Female Farmer Project has curated materials you can send to lawmakers to get behavioral health funding added to this bill.
In addition to the Farm Bill efforts, The STRESS Act (H.R. 5259) has just been introduced. This bi-partisan bill would provide critical resources for farmers experiencing emotional, physical, and financial distress. The bill would also establish the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network, which will coordinate assistance programs for farmers and ranchers, including crisis hotlines, educational and outreach services, and training for farmer advocates.
Arizona Congressman Tom O’Halleran worked with other representatives and sponsors to make this bill possible. Click here for more information on the bill, and to urge your representatives to support this important initiative.
Agriculture is vital to the health and well-being of all individuals in this nation. Farmers in Arizona and the rest of the country need help. Together, we can put an end to this crisis.
If you or a loved one are seeking help, here are a few resources you can reach out to:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
- EMPACT Suicide Prevention Center: 1-866-205-5229
- Southern Arizona Mental Health Corp Crisis Line: 1-800-796-6762