On Tuesday, National Farmers Union President Roger Jonson wrote Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue, asking that the USDA proactively address the farmer suicide crisis. Johnson wrote many farmers and ranchers are coping with alarming levels of stress, and USDA should serve a critical role in providing support to farmers in crisis. Johnson noted that farmers and ranchers commit suicide at a rate five times that of the general population.
“Farming is a high-stress occupation,” said Johnson. “Due to the prolonged downturn in the farm economy, many farmers are facing even greater stress. USDA’s national reach uniquely positions the Department to assist farmers and ranchers during times of crisis.”
Johnson noted that financial risk, volatile markets, unpredictable weather, social isolation, and heavy workloads can all place significant strain on farmers’ and ranchers’ mental and emotional well-being.
A 2016 CDC study revealed that farmers had a much higher rate of suicide than any other occupation. Johnson highlighted USDA’s vast network, including more that 2,100 Farm Service Agency offices that interact with farmers and ranchers on a daily basis. He proposed several options for the USDA to address the farmer suicide crisis:
~ Develop and distribute training materials to help FSA field personnel better identify and respond to the signs of mental stress.
~ Provide guidance and best practices to Cooperative Extension Services for conducting trainings, workshops and webinars on recognizing and responding to the signs of mental stress.
~ Convene agricultural and rural stakeholders at the national, state and local levels to assess the causes of mental stress in farmers and ranchers, identify best practices in responding to that stress, and leverage partnerships with nonprofit organizations and state and local agencies.
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