Farmers are committing suicide as you read this article. In countries like India, the rate of farmer suicides has become a national crisis. The World Health Organization (WHO) is particularly concerned with farmer suicides because of the impact it is having on families. WHO estimates that one person commits suicide every 13.3 minutes.
The U.S. farmer suicides rates are just under two times that of the general population. In the U.K. one farmer a week commits suicide. In China, farmers are killing themselves daily to protest the government taking over their prime agricultural lands for urbanization. In France, a farmer dies by suicide every two days. Australia reports one farmer suicides every four days. India yearly reports more than 17,627 farmer suicides.
So what is being done to prevent farmer suicides? The Indian newspaper Hindu reported that Rythu Swarajya Vedika (RSV), an organization of NGOs and intellectuals working on agricultural issues, has taken up the cause of reducing farmer suicides in India by educating the children of farmers about depression. Education ensures the family spots the signs of depression before any suicidal tendency takes its course. RSV says that most farmers don't share their problems with family members or admit they are depressed before they commit suicide.
So RSV is asking children of farmers to discuss each and every aspect of farming with their parents to know their mental status. They also want adult children to spend more time with their parents to spot the signs of depression. The hope is that a word of support from family members will help the suicidal farmer to rethink his/her attempt even in the last minute.
Farmers markets across the world are having a suicide prevention week during which they are promoting education about depression. There are talks and exhibits of stories and art work from those who have had personal experiences with depression or suicide. Walks and runs are being held, all in an effort to reduce the stigma of depression.
In Australia, a new non-profit organization called One Of A Kind Community Support has been launched in Narrabri Shire. The focus is on offering a neighbourhood, social and community support programs to at-risk farmers before the need for crisis support and suicide prevention services. In the U.K. the charity organization YANA (You Are Not Alone) helps depressed farmers with their network of counsellors, GPs and people who know what it's like to farm. NY FarmNet in the U.S. provides a network of phone hotlines for rural communities. In Saskatchewan, Canada there is a Stress Line just for farmers.
Dr. Shekhar Saxena, director of the department of mental health and substance abuse at WHO believes every country needs to have a national suicide prevention program. Only 28 countries say they have a national suicide prevention strategy at this time.
"In India and Sri Lanka they have community storage of pesticides. There is a place where pesticides are stored under lock and key and people take them out when they need them -- or you have storage in farms in a cupboard opened by two keys kept by separate people," said Dr. Saxena.
WHO is working with India and other Asian countries to make it harder for farmers to kill themselves with pesticides by introducing community lock boxes. Farmers in these countries are usually low-income and my have a bottle of pesticide on the kitchen shelf. It's also suggested that guns and knives be locked away or at least have some secure storage to limit immediate access.
People who want to commit suicide grab the nearest possible means. If access to something lethal can be restricted for even a few hours, a life can be saved. The person will think about committing suicide and usually will decide not to do it. If someone is around to talk to about depression, the chances of grabbing that pesticide bottle go down even more.
For more information and ideas on how to prevent suicide, please visit the World Health Organization Mental Health page.
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