What is driving the high suicide rate among farmers?

URBANA, Ill. — Josie Rudolphi is a professor of agricultural and biological engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign whose research examined suicide among farmers and ranchers, as well as the mental health of their children. She is the co-director of the North Central Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Center, a 12-state, 15-partner collaborative based in Illinois Extension that offers stress management and mental health interventions. Rudolphi spoke with News Bureau research editor Sharita Forrest about the mental health needs of people in the farming industry.

Recent data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated that farmers are twice as likely as people in other occupations to die by suicide. What are the unique stressors affecting the mental health of farmers?

While most farmers in the Midwest had a good harvest this year and commodity prices are strong, they are faced with incredibly high input costs. Unpredictable commodity prices have so much impact on the viability of a farm. There’s a lot to celebrate, but the future is so uncertain. Depressive symptoms among farm parents are significantly greater than among the general population.

And they can’t control the weather. While Illinois had good weather this growing season, that wasn’t the case nationwide. There were drought conditions in other parts of the country, and that’s a huge concern for some of our partners who are providing stress assistance for those farmers.

Migrant workers experience different types of stress than do producers – such as issues with immigration status, acculturation, language, and discrimination. We need to focus a lot more attention on the mental health of farm workers, too.

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