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Reversing an alarming trend

Sen. Charles Grassley seeks to stem increase in farmer suicides

In September, the prestigious medical journal JAMA Network Open published a major study concerning the suicide rates in the United States and observable trends. Data covering an 18-year period (1999-2016) were analyzed. During that timeframe, there were 453,577 individuals aged between 25 and 64 who took their own lives. The study found that suicide rates are increasing in our nation and the increase is greatest in rural counties. That conclusion coupled with information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that the suicide rate in rural America is 45 percent greater than in urban areas is very troubling.

This worrisome trend has led the two United States senators who are farmers – Iowa’s Charles Grassley and Montana’s Jon Tester – to partner across the political aisle to co-sponsor the Seeding Rural Resilience Act. The Iowa Republican and Montana Democrat want to improve the federal government’s ability to work with the mental health community to reduce the number of suicides in farm and ranch country.

“Farmers are increasingly feeling the pain of sinking commodity prices, devastating natural disasters and ongoing trade disruptions,” Grassley said in a statement just released by his office. “That, coupled with the largely solitary nature of farming, has led more and more family farmers to desperation and feelings of hopelessness. This should not be the case. This bill continues important efforts to raise awareness about this issue and provide the assistance necessary to encourage farmers and their families during difficult times.”

The proposed legislation would facilitate the implementation of a voluntary stress management training program for Farm Service Agency, Risk Management Agency and National Resources Conservation Service employees. It would also make $3 million available to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture for a public-service-announcement initiative to enhance awareness of this issue. Additionally, the act directs the U.S. secretary of agriculture to work with a broad array of parties at the state and local level to identify effective ways to respond to the mental stresses that life and work on farms and ranches can produce.

Not surprisingly, this legislative response is gaining enthusiastic support across the nation. Among its supporters are the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Farm Aid, the Female Farmer Project, the National Association of Mental Illness, the National Association of Wheat Growers, the National Family Farm Coalition and the National Young Farmers Coalition.

The Messenger commends Grassley and Tester for collaborating on this important undertaking. Farm life has many positive attributes. Unfortunately, some of its challenges can seem overwhelming at times. This legislation will marshal resources that can be of assistance to farmers and ranchers as they cope with stressful situations. In so doing, it can help our nation reduce the number of rural suicides and make them exceedingly rare.