Harvest, Suicide Prevention Month coincide in September

Sep 16, 2021

Drought and high animal feed prices are just two factors that have added to the pressures of the agricultural year for Washington state’s food production community. 

Given these stresses, and perhaps appropriately, September is both harvest time and National Suicide Prevention Month.

Rural communities suffer from almost twice the suicide rate as urban areas, in part because of isolation and less access to mental health services. 

It is critical for lawmakers and communities to understand that suicides are the culmination of several compounding events occurring over time, rather than a single rash decision in most cases. To help food producers – one of the most vulnerable populations when it comes to suicide and self-harm – decision-makers need to do a better job of understanding the triggering events that lead to suicide on the farm as well as the contributing factors leading up to those events. 

For example, Washington state’s wheat crop has been decimated by drought this year, with harvest yields being reported at just 93.6 million bushels statewide rather than the five-year average of 157 million bushels. The short crop coupled with the current dry soil conditions as farmers begin to plant their winter wheat crop, make the timing rife for a stress-related crisis which can easily escalate into something more tragic.

Additionally, as COVID restrictions continue to roll on in our state and legislative decisions like the mandatory shift to overtime pay for all agricultural workers statewide take hold, pressures continue to pile up for farmers and ranchers. The combination of drought, high feed prices, higher wage thresholds, and more government-imposed restrictions, along with ever-increasing costs to operate a farm or ranch, can begin to feel like the weight of the world, especially on small farms where profit margins are slim and income concerns are big.

As September and harvest roll on, the warning signs of mental health and suicide can appear:

  • Increased alcohol and drug use;
  • Aggressive behavior;
  • Withdrawal from friends, family, and community;
  • Dramatic mood swings; and/or
  • Impulsive or reckless behavior.

A call to a professional is in order if any of the following behaviors are observed:

  • Collecting and saving pills or buying a weapon;
  • Giving away possessions;
  • Tying up loose ends, like organizing personal papers or paying off debts; and/or
  • Saying goodbye to friends and family.

While there is no dedicated agriculture mental health hotline yet, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 800-273-TALK (8255), is a 24-hour hotline offering services for anyone in crisis.