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Farmer Suicide Prevention: Essays Urge Farmers to ‘Think of Me; We’re Thinking of You’

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Today farmers and even their farm workers are stressed by low commodity prices, natural disasters, and other factors. Farmers are taking their lives in alarming numbers, so high school FFA members in eight Kentucky counties were invited to write essays about the farmer suicide crisis.

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Based on the theme “Think of Me; We’re Thinking of You,” the essay contest offered prizes for the best essays from FFA members in Breckinridge, Grayson, Hardin, LaRue, Marion, Meade, Nelson, and Washington counties and were announced at the Louis Crosier Farm Safety Symposium earlier this year.

Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles was quoted by saying, “A farmer or farm worker who is feeling crushed by the weight of economic difficulties, crop loss, disease, and other challenges may not be thinking of the people who love and value him and want to help him carry on,” “Some of Kentucky’s farm youth have taken it upon themselves to meet this crisis head-on, and we encourage them to put their thoughts on paper. Their ideas could help save lives.”

Jasmine Benningfield, Sydney Pepper and Madison Wilmoth’s essays are being featured as they were chosen as three of the eight overall winners of the essay contest.

A national suicide prevention hotline is available 24/7, is free and provides confidential support for those in distress, along with prevention and crisis resources at 1-800-273-8255.

 

By Sydney Pepper

Dear Dad,

I know the past year has been tough. I’ve seen it all firsthand. I’ve seen the falling rain and the falling prices making you and countless other farmers in the agricultural community feel like you, too, are falling, deeper and deeper into countless “black holes”. You’re falling into the belief that it will never get any better. You’re falling into situations where it’s getting tougher and tougher to pay the never-ending pile of bills. You’re falling into levels of stress and depression that you didn’t even know existed. That has become the life of the American farmer.

January 1, everyone outside of the agricultural community celebrated the New Year. But for you, it’s not a new year, and it’s definitely not worth celebrating. Sure, it’s January, but last year’s crops still aren’t in and it’s getting to be too late to do anything about it. They’ll soon be too far gone. This makes you feel like you’re falling even deeper. I know that it is situations like these that have caused the suicide rate of American farmers to continuously climb. I know that the world needs farmers. I know that I need farmers, and I know that I need you.

I, however, don’t know the thoughts that are floating around in your head. I don’t know if you are one of the many farmers who everyday think that suicide might just be the answer. I don’t know if you think that doing the unthinkable is the only way to stop falling. But, I know for a fact that it’s not the answer to anything.

As your daughter, I have grown to love farming, just like you. You established our family farm by yourself. You are a first generation farmer. That in itself is a huge accomplishment. You have worked your entire life for this. You did it, and as you did, you helped raise four kids who love it just like you do. Think of us; we think of you.

Nothing is worth losing you. The farm may be struggling and money may be tight, but Dad, suicide is never, and will never be, the answer. Think of me; I think of you.

At the end of the day, I would much rather come home to my whole family and a struggling, or even non-existent, farm than a broken and hurting family and the whole farm. To be totally honest with you, if I lived knowing that the farm was the reason I was without a dad, my vision of the farm would be permanently scarred for eternity. I would never be able to look at it the same, with the same passion, or with the same love that I do now. Think of me; I think of you Dad.

There is nothing worth losing you. Nothing is worth losing an American hero, an American farmer. Think of me; I think of all of you.

Love,

Your Number One Fan.

 

 

By Jasmine Benningfield

When I was younger, the thing I would look forward to the most throughout the day was coming home to see my parents after a day at school. I would anxiously wait in the car rider line for my mom or dad to pull around the circle in the car. I would get in and we would talk about how my day was, what I had for lunch, and what I was going to eat for a snack when I got home. Imagine the excited feeling you get when you see someone you love and multiply it by one hundred, then take it away. Many children have to go through this very thing right now. Suicide is a hard topic for many people to talk about but it is something, especially now, that should be a very hot topic. Right now, there is a rise in multiple areas of suicide including firefighters and teens. However, there seems to be little known about suicide in one of the most important assets America has: the farmer. Farmers are the people that essentially power our economy and ways of life. Without them, we would have nothing. Farmer and farm worker suicides have been hidden for too long. It is time for our community to make a stand and start talking about what is going on behind the scenes of our national economy.

Let us look at just a few accounts of farmer suicide going on around us. Montana farmer Dick Tyler committed suicide as health issues forced him away from farming. He did not ask for help even though in the article his daughter, Darla Tyler-McSherry, recounts a time when her father’s foot became caught in an auger and he pulled it out before making his way to the house with his mangled and bloodied foot. As Darla said within the CNN article, “We’re so good at talking about physical pain, but we’re so bad at talking about any kind of psychological pain.” Many farmers believe that their families are so dependent on them, that no matter what they are going through, they should put on a tough face and put their families first.

How many times have you heard someone ask a farmer how they are doing, and seriously mean it? Even if they do, they will never be honest in their response. Let me ask you a question, would you rather come home to your family at night, or a hundred acres of farm land? Many farmers believe that their families would rather come home to a farm or liability money than a loved one and from my experience, this is not true.

To anyone who is or has thought about suicide in their lifetime, think of the look your mom gets on her face when you come to visit, think of the joy on your dog’s face when you get home from school or work, think of anyone and everyone who has ever told you they love you and appreciate you. Think of me, and think of this essay before you make a decision that will leave your family with a missing piece.

 

By Madison Wilmoth

When people who worked in large cities retire, they often move to smaller more rural areas to live out the rest of their days in peace and away from the noisy city. Most people find smaller towns or rural areas more peaceful and calming, as well as friendly. But then why is the suicide rate in rural areas so much higher than in more urban areas? Why is the rate of suicide among farmers more than double the suicide rate of veterans?

There are a number of reasons why suicide rates are higher in rural America: lack of access to mental health care, social isolation, and small community living where internal struggles become tightly held secrets. A study conducted by the United States Center for Disease Control listed farming, in the occupational group along with fishing and forestry, with the highest rate of suicide deaths.

Farmer suicide rates were high in the 1980’s due to economic hardships. Farms were being sold on the steps of the courthouse. Unfortunately, today’s suicide rates among farmers have skyrocketed yet again. You might wonder why farmers feel the need to carry out such a drastic measure. For many farmers, their land has been in their family for generation after generation. The pressure to keep the farm and the farm lifestyle becomes so great because it is all the farmer has ever known. Growing up on the farm and learning to farm along side their father and grandfather, the tradition is so engrained that the thought of losing this lifestyle is devastating. This pressure can become so great that it leads a farmer to the unthinkable.

For farmers, there are economic stressors, including an existence in which their livelihood can be wiped out with a single drought, infestation, or 15-minute hailstorm. Markets fluctuate and costs for fuel and fertilizer climb, while prices earned per bushel drop. The President introduces tariffs, adding uncertainty to a life that’s already plenty uncertain.

In 2010, Dean Pierson, a 59 year old dairy farmer, shot all 51 of his milking cows and then turned the weapon on himself, leaving suicide notes on cow tag cards stating that he was “overwhelmed” by personal and financial issues. Farmer, Matt Peters left a letter to his wife on May 12, 2011 before committing suicide. That morning, standing in their kitchen, he had told his wife that he couldn’t think and that he felt paralyzed. It was planting season and Matt was working around the clock to get the crop planted on time. He hadn’t slept in three nights and stress was high with decisions to be made. Unfortunately, Matt and Dean’s stories are not all too uncommon.

It is stories like these that make all of these facts all the more real. Mental health is obviously very important for everyone, but especially for farmers and farm workers who have an increased risk of poor mental health and suicide. Farmers are the reason you did not go hungry today, so shouldn’t we start thinking of them?

In Kentucky, initiatives are being made to help address the tragic issue of suicide among farmers. At the Kentucky and National Farm Bureau Federation Meetings, National Farm Bureau President, Zippy Duvall spoke about his personal experience with the loss of a farmer friend due to suicide. The University of Kentucky is heading up a grant project which is being conducted by Western Kentucky University and Dr. Susan Jones. The project will include focus groups across Kentucky speaking with farm couples and families to try to identify issues that serve as stressors and ways to provide support for farm families. This project is just one of many that are being conducted to try to help with the tragic issue of suicide among farmers. We must find a way to reach out and save the lives of the farmers who feed us every day.