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Study Shows Farmer Suicide Rate Still Rising

New research indicates that the suicide rate for farmers has continued to climb higher since the 1980s compared to workers in other industries.

A fence post with barbed wire borders the edge of a farm at sunset.

Photo: Phil Roeder (flickr)

Authors of a new study said poor access to health care, isolation, and financial stress put farmers at a disproportionately high risk for suicide.

The rate of suicides among farmers and farm workers has remained stubbornly high since the end of an economic crisis rocked the agriculture sector in the late 1980s, a new study shows.

Researchers at the University of Iowa examined suicide and homicide rates across the country from 1992 to 2010, and found that farmers and farm workers committed suicide at a rate that ranged from nearly twice as high to five times higher than the rate in all other occupations for the same period.

The study found a total of 230 U.S. farmers died by suicide during that period.

The rate was lower than those reported during the farm crisis, when more than 1,000 farmers took their own lives in a trend blamed on massive farm foreclosures.

The rate from 1992 to 2010 ranged from .36 to .95 per 100,000 farmers, compared to a rate that never topped .19 per 100,000 for other industries.

Study co-author Corinne Peek-Asa, professor of occupational and environmental health at the University of Iowa College of Public Health, said lack of access to health care, isolation, extreme weather and financial stress were key factors in the higher rate.

Peek-Asa also noted that some research suggests that exposure to insecticides causes depression in some people.

The study showed that farmers in the western U.S. were more likely to commit suicide, accounting for 43 percent of total farmer suicides.

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Chad Bouchard

Chad Bouchard is a veteran reporter and WFIU alum who has covered wild and wooly beats from Indonesia to Capitol Hill. His radio work has aired on NPR, PRI and Voice of America, and his writing has appeared in The Sunday Telegraph and Scientific American’s health magazine, Lives. He has also spent a lifetime gardening, foraging and eating weird stuff.

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