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Understanding suicide in Australian farmers

Abstract

Objective

Male farmers in Australia have an elevated risk of suicide. The aims of this study were to investigate the rate of mental health problems amongst farmers compared with non-farmer rural residents and to investigate what additional factors might contribute to an increased risk of suicide amongst farmers.

Method

This study used a combination of quantitative and qualitative approaches. First, using self-report questionnaire data, we compared rates of mental health problems (a common correlate of suicide) and a number of personality measures between farmers (n=371) and non-farming rural residents (n=380). In addition, semi-structured interviews with farmers (n=32) were used to gain a richer understanding of how the context of farming and mental health interact.

Results

Five key findings emerged from the study. First, in the quantitative study, we found no support for the proposition that farmers experience higher rates of mental health problems than do non-farmer rural residents, but we identified potentially important personality differences between farmers and non-farmers, with levels of conscientiousness being significantly higher amongst farmers and levels of neuroticism being significantly lower. A strong association between maleness and farming was also found. In the qualitative study, participants indicated that farming is an environment in which individuals experienced a range of stressors but have limited capacity to acknowledge or express these. In addition, there appeared to be significant attitudinal barriers to seeking help for those who may have mental health problems, particularly male farmers.

Conclusion

The elevated rate of suicide amongst farmers does not seem to be simply explained by an elevated rate of mental health problems. Individual personality, gender and community attitudes that limit a person's ability to acknowledge or express mental health problems and seek help for these may be significant risk factors for suicide in farmers.

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Notes

  1. All names used in the following descriptions are pseudonyms.

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Acknowledgement

This study was supported by a grant from beyondblue, The National Depression Initiative.

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Correspondence to Fiona Judd MD, DPM, FRANZCP.

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Judd, F., Jackson, H., Fraser, C. et al. Understanding suicide in Australian farmers. Soc Psychiat Epidemiol 41, 1–10 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00127-005-0007-1

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Key words

  • farmer
  • mental health problems
  • suicide
  • personality
  • attitudes