Kansas farmer on alarming suicide rate: ‘Nothing gets farmers more down than a drought’


Kansas farmers are weighing in on studies that show people who work in the agriculture industry are more likely to commit suicide compared to other occupational groups. 

“The suicide and depression rates among the farming community have become alarming over the last couple of years,” said Derek Sawyer, Owner and Operator of Sawyer Land and Cattle.

Approximately 40,000 suicides were reported in the United States in 2012. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, people working in the farming, fishing and forestry group had the highest suicide rate overall (84.5 per 100,000 population). 

Derek Sawyer is a fourth generation farmer in McPherson County. He took over his family farm in 2006.

“The ultimate goal is to grow food and feed a lot of hungry people,” Sawyer explained.

However, feeding people while making a profit is a difficult task. It’s a task Sawyer said could lead to farmers facing a state of depression.

“While I have never truly experienced those thoughts, you can understand where the stresses of life come from,” Sawyer said. “I have some friends who have faced the depression side of things. A lot of times it’s situations that are beyond our control.”

Sawyer said it’s usually a combination of personal and financial pressures. 

“The financial side, the markets are really tough to handle,” he said.

Unfortunately, farmers are at the mercy of Mother Nature.

“Nothing gets farmers more down than a drought,” Sawyer said. “Just the fact that there is really nothing you can do to bring a rain on and you know your crops have to have it in order to survive.”

Just like farmers can’t change the weather, mental health workers have a difficult time getting farmers to open up about their struggles.

“Farmers are under so much pressure, they’re not necessarily going to stop and ask for help,” said Mental Health Association (MHA) Director of Development and Communications Eric Litwiller. “The farmers I know, they are proud individuals, men and women both, and they want to put on a strong face for their spouses. They want to put on a strong faces for their families.”

Litwiller said it may also be difficult for farmers to seek help in rural areas.

“We do our best to have programs available in those farming communities, but of course its limited by our funding,” Litwiller said.

He added MHA has 32 programs and a division dedicated to adult services, but the farmers have to be willing to seek help.

Sawyer admits that’s not always easy for agriculture workers.

“In general, we are kind of on the secretive side of things. We don’t like to really go out and gloat when we have good things happen to us and we especially don’t like to tell people how bad things went when we have a bad year,” Sawyer said.

Both Litwiller and Sawyer said farmers must learn to open up about their feelings for change to occur.

“We really need to learn to talk to people. We need to be more open with our thoughts and feelings and really try to take care of ourselves,” Sawyer said.

The 2018 farm bill would have provided funding for crisis hotlines and other programs for farmers, but it was rejected by the House on Friday.

Senator Jerry Moran sponsored the Farmers First Act in April. The legislation would reestablish the farm and ranch stress assistance network. 

National Suicide Prevention: 1-800-273-8255

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