‘A lot of uncertainty’: Health professionals say number of farmers dying by suicide is increasing

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WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – From the uncertainties surrounding the weather to crop prices, Kansas farmers are facing stressors that are negatively impacting their mental health, leading to more farmers taking their own lives.

The challenges of farming have changed over the years. Now, the hard working men and women in the fields are facing a downfall in the economy, dropping crop prices and trying to keep up with the business their ancestors began.

“For farmers, there’s an additional stressor being connected so much to your land,” said Keith Buhr, Ph.D., psychologist at Prairie View Mental Health Center. “Not only is it where you live in the community, it’s your source of livelihood.”

Buhr sees people struggling with mental health issues every day. He said the number of people dying by suicide is increasing, especially in people ages 25-54.

He and other officials are also seeing a hike in the number of farmers taking their own lives.

“Another challenge of living in a farming community is you live in a small community,” said Buhr. “You have a reputation, and you’re known by that reputation.”

Agriculture officials said many farmers can’t make ends meet and tarnishing their family’s reputation is a big concern.

According to a study done by the American Farm Bureau Federation, a majority of farmers said cost and embarrassment of addressing mental health issues are obstacles for them.

KSN’s Agriculture Analyst John Jenkinson said most of the issues farmers face are out of their hands.

“One of the only options right now is to be very observant,” said Jenkinson. “Look for signs, look for stress, talk with farmers and ranchers. It’s really up to family and friends to be able to help get through these times.”

Jenkinson said it’s not just mental health issues that are impacting the farming community. He said drugs, too, can be a factor.

“It’s not just suicide,” said Jenkinson. “It’s opioid abuse, it’s drug abuse. There’s just so much stress right now in agriculture. A lot of that has to do with extremely low commodity prices, a lot of uncertainty.”

But, there is help and officials want you to know that things can get better.

“There’s hope,” said Buhr. “You’re not alone, no matter what you’re feeling.”

Buhr said there are mental health centers in every county in Kansas. Reach out to your local center for help or resources.

If you or someone you know needs help, you can call the Sedgwick County Suicide Prevention Hotline at 316-660-7500 or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. Both are open 24 hours a day.

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