A closer understanding of the personal risk factors around suicide in farmers is the outcome of new research from Griffith University’s Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention (AISRAP).

The Australian Research Council (ARC) funded research finds that contrary to common belief, suicide does not occur out of the blue, but rather as a result of significant protracted distress due to issues such as relationship breakdown, long-term mental health issues or financial difficulties/imminence of retirement.

The study is the first of its kind and was conducted in collaboration with the University of Newcastle and the Queensland Mental Health Commission, involving extensive interviews with 18 next-of-kin relatives of male farmers who died of suicide between 2007 and 2014 in Queensland and New South Wales.

Farming stress unique

“As we know, suicide among farming communities remains a real problem in rural and remote areas,” says researcher Ms Lisa Kunde.

“We found from the study that farming is a very unique occupation, different from the usual city worker, with long hours that typically cover every day of the week. Farmers often work without many breaks and suffer seasonal issues such as drought.

“However, we have found from these family interviews that these are often just the background issues to the main life trajectories which often include personal relationship, mental health and financial issues.

“Additionally, we also identified another group which was farmers with established psychiatric disorders and for whom a protracted suicide process was implied.

“Often, it appeared there were long distances to be travelled to get the proper treatment. Getting adequate rest time after treatment was another issue for farmers who were anxious about being away from work for too long.

“For some farmers, it seems the suicidal process is protracted,” says Ms Kunde.

“For others it is acute and brief. Such findings should provide guidance for the provision of suicide prevention strategies, psychological support and the development of health promotion resources in rural and remote communities.”