AUTHOR’S NOTE: The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.
The 1980’s was not a good decade for American midwestern family farmers by anyone’s imagination. In fact, for much of the 1980’s, the Upper Midwest was in the grip of a crippling farm crisis that drove thousands of family farmers off of their land and drove many to take their own lives.
In 2017, the suicide rate among male farmers in the United States is much higher than it was during the 1980’s:
The National Farm Medicine Center in Marshfield, Wis., tracked farm suicides during the 1980s in the Upper Midwest, the region most affected by the farm crisis, to try to better understand the relationships between the farm economy and suicide.
They found that 913 male farmers in the region committed suicide during that decade, with rates peaking in 1982 at 58 suicides for every 100,000 male farmers and ranchers.
Compare that with this year’s (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) report, which found that current national suicide rates for people working in agriculture are 84.5 per 100,000 overall, and 90.5 per 100,000 among males. This means that suicide rates among male farmers are now more than 50 percent higher than they were in 1982, at the peak of the farm crisis.
(Emphasis is mine; I was not able to find a 1982 figure for suicide rates among the overall farmer and rancher population.)
There are major reasons why the suicide rate among farmers and ranchers is so high. First, crop prices are low to the point that farmers are not getting a fair price for their crop and rural communities that are dependent on the agricultural industry are suffering as a result of it. Second, farmers and ranchers have been effectively abandoned by both major political parties: most, but not all, farmers and ranchers in the United States vote for Republican political candidates, but Republican agricultural policies negatively impact family farmers and ranchers, and most Democratic elected officials who remain in office represent heavily-urbanized political constituencies, so the Democratic Party has increasingly ignored the legitimate concerns of rural voters.
Something is seriously wrong in rural America when the suicide rate among those who produce our nation’s food is extremely high.