In November 2021, the National Rural Health Alliance (NRHA) presented findings from their Australian-first farmer suicide desktop study at the Australian Rural and Remote Mental Health Symposium.
The study found that between 2009 and 2018, there were 370 farmer suicides reported, which equates to one farmer taking their own life every 10 days in Australia.
This study explored farmer suicides using data from the National Coronial Information System, Census data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics and data from Australian institute of Health and Welfare’s National Mortality Database.
Between 2009 and 2018, the average suicide rate for farmers (18.3 per 100,000) was almost 60 per cent higher than non-farmers (11.5 per 100,000). The suicide rate for farmers has trended upwards in this time, increasing to 22.2 per 100,000 in 2018, which is 94 per cent higher than non-farmers.
Farmers with certain demographic characteristics had higher suicide rates, including males, those who have separated from their spouse, and young and middle-aged farmers.
This study provides an update to the available research on this issue, shining a spotlight on the higher suicide risk posed to the farming population.
Risk factors that have previously been identified in this population include lack of control over environmental factors such as crop yields, trade markets and climate change. In particular, the droughts in recent years have placed huge financial stress and strain on farmers. Social and personal risk factors include isolation, high workloads, individual stoicism and lower rates of help-seeking behaviour.
Luke Sartor, NRHA Policy Officer, calls for further investment into prevention and early intervention, stating, “Part of the problem is the culture around reaching out for help from medical professionals. Local community-based services are more likely to be successful – locals helping locals – at sporting clubs, pubs, community events, local schools.”
“With farmers continually over-represented in suicide statistics to a significant degree, local programs needed to ramp up to get more targeted help.”
Mr Sartor said that further research is needed to examine risk factors and look into pathways to suicide, for example, acute situational pathways such as drought, and protracted pathways linked with psychological illness.