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Dairy Farmers – Break Down The Stigma Around Suicide

Suicide in the agriculture community is an unfortunate reality and is an issue farm families have to be concerned about. It’s time to end the stigma.  Let’s start by ending the silence.

“What are We Talking About?”

As dairy farmers, we spend the majority of our time working and when we do get to socialize in person, in our communities or online, it sometimes is easier to talk about the current price of milk than it is to bring up mental health issues.  I don’t personally know Jessica Peters but I want to give her heartfelt thanks for sending out her thoughts about mental health in agriculture. She was interviewed by Hoard’s Dairymen and can be found on facebook/com/sprucerow.  Thank you Jessica for calling us to action, “It is time to speak up.”

“There is A Global Gathering Place Online”

Online, the Twitter hashtag #DoMoreAg serves as a global gathering place for struggling farmers to reach out for support.  Politicians, industry leaders and mental-health advocates credit farmers opening up on the platform for pushing this crisis and its severity into the spotlight. Farmers talking, asking and listening is bringing attention to the problem of suicide.

“Depression is Not a Choice or a Shortcoming”

We find that our dairy family and friends are impacted by this difficult issue. The first place to start is by correcting misinformation.

  • Nobody is immune to mental health issues, either young or old.
  • Mental health issues are not just a phase. They are not a choice.
  • Mental health issues do not define a person.

Intervention is definitely needed if someone becomes suicidal. Before that crisis time,

training in social problem solving skills, creating a sense of belonging, and providing social support could reduce the likelihood that someone will attempt suicide.

“Take This One Action”

Rural communities and individual farmers find it hard to reach out when faced with this topic. One suggestion is to set up a local farm meeting simply to acknowledge how everyone is doing.  There is no need for speakers and formal presenters.  Simply provide some time for people to talk to each other. Sharing in a safe place we can admit that we all face challenges.  We all need support and encouragement.

“We Have to Rethink Support Programs”

There are many negative triggers in life and whether you carry the burden of one or of many, you can be assured that there is assistance. In the farm community, the expressed reasons are – debt, alcohol addiction, environment, low produce prices, stress and family responsibilities, apathy, poor irrigation, increased cost of cultivation, private money lenders, use of chemical fertilizers and crop failure. Supporting someone means having an understanding of the causes. It means understanding the possible impacts and the kinds of information that is needed. 

“Information.  Too Much.  Wrong Kind.  Too Little”

It is often the stated goal of any industry forum, magazine or editorial to inspire discussion and to be an impetus for action. This works well when discussing measureable outcomes with visible parameters.  Breeding charts, feeding strategies or effective storage solutions respond to this type of open analysis. However, when it comes to health issues and, specifically mental health issues, the topic can have repercussions. It is natural to feel uncomfortable with difficult conversations about mental illness and suicide.  However, completely avoiding acknowledgement of the topic might lead to community pushback and suspicion, while too much of the wrong kind of information could be as counterproductive.

“If you think you may attempt suicide, get help now.”

“We Have to Learn how to Ask for and How to Give Support.”

That was the opening to a recent conversation with a farming friend. As more and more negativity piles on our already overloaded senses, we feel less able to cope. In an effort not to hurt or burden others, we retreat into ourselves becoming more and more isolated.

Depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues can be very isolating.

“You Don’t Have to Suffer Silently. It’s Okay to Ask for Help”

Getting people to talk about a subject that tends to be taboo and about which many hold mistaken and prejudiced ideas will help the dairy ag community to learn about the risk factors so that they can identify and learn to address them. Here are some signals to be aware of:

  • Withdrawing from social contact and wanting to be left alone
  • Increasing use of alcohol or illicit drugs
  • Changing normal routines, including eating or sleeping patterns
  • Doing risky or self-destructive things, such as using drugs or driving recklessly 

“Don’t Ignore the Warning Signs.” 

Warning signs aren’t always obvious, and they may vary from person to person. If you begin to see negative changes in your behavior or in someone else, they are signs stating to the world that something is wrong:

  • Talking about suicide — for example, making statements such as “I wish I were dead” or “I wish I hadn’t been born”.
  • Feeling trapped or hopeless about a situation
  • Preoccupation with death, dying or violence
  • Having mood swings, such as being emotionally high one day and deeply discouraged the next.

“Find Out Who to Get in Touch with RIGHT NOW.”

Suicidal thinking doesn’t get better on its own.  If you’re feeling on the edge, but are not immediately thinking of hurting yourself:

  • Reach out to a close friend or loved one.
  • Contact a minister, spiritual leader or someone in your faith community
  • Call a suicide hotline
  • Make an appointment with your doctor, other health care provider or a mental health
  • If you find it too hard to list these numbers for yourself, ask a friend or family member to help you with this task. 

“When to See a Doctor for Depression”

Sharing your feelings with trusted family or friends may help in the short term. When more help is needed, don’t give up. Doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists can provide treatments and self management strategies beyond what those close to you can do. This is a proactive step but there could be issues! It takes courage to reach out but in today’s health community the current waiting list might be quite lengthy.  Here is an added burden for people who are already finding it hard to cope. The ag industry and healthcare at large needs to be more adequately prepared to meet the mental health needs of the community. Depression can make a person feel completely helpless.  Their energy becomes so drained that they haven’t enough left to ask for help.  When you are worried about a friend or loved one, offer support by encouraging them to speak to a health professional. If they’re not able to do it on their own, ask for their permission to ask on their behalf. 

“Take Care of Your Body and Mind.”

One of the ways we identify with those who are struggling is for the reason that we recognize the ways everybody tries to manage our mental health.  Here are four ways to offer help.

  • Encourage the person that you are worried about to get enough sleep. Although they may feel that working 24/7 is a way to avoid facing root causes, in actual fact, it may worsen the problem.
  • Be aware of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)which most often occurs in response to the onset of the shorter days and colder weather of winter, known as winter-onset SAD.
  • We all need to exercise regularly, although it may seem redundant to hard working farmers.Exercise that loosens and relaxes muscles counteracts the buildup of tension and helps both mind and body.
  • Time and worry steal attention from self care. Be sure to regularly eat healthy foods. 

“Do You Need More Help?”

Plan Postvention to Provide Support, Intervention and Assistance”

Postvention refers to a series of activities undertaken within the community to respond to a death, suicide or other public crisis with the intention of

  • facilitating the grieving;
  • helping with the adjustment process;
  • stabilizing the environment;
  • reducing the risk of negative behaviors;
  • limiting the the risk of further suicides through contagion.

All efforts need to work simultaneously to get the community back to the pre-crisis level of functioning, while developing new skills for dealing with new or repeated challenges in the future. 


Assuming a connection between weakness and depression makes it difficult for people with this form of illness to ask for the help they need.  The agricultural and dairy community must break down the stigma around mental illness. Far from being a sign of weakness, living with and recovering from depression takes a lot of personal strength. You are not alone.  The goal is to help yourself and others to come out on the other side with a more constructive, productive and effective way to face mental pain.



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