01 October 1999
Bottling up stress lifts suicide rates

By Robert Davies

A CULTURE of self-reliance and the stigma attached to mental ill-health are contributing to the high rate of suicide among farmers.

A report on new research in two Welsh counties, Powys and Ceredigion, also claims that farmers are very good at hiding symptoms of depression.

Information about support services is failing to reach farming families, says the report, which was commissioned by the Welsh Office.

The Institute of Rural Health carried out the study which also reviewed the help available from statutory and voluntary bodies.

It reveals that farm suicides were static in both counties between 1991 and 1996 despite a reduction in the total suicide rate.

Support agencies claimed that farmers tended to be self-reliant and sought help only at the last minute.

A lack of anonymity in rural areas influenced how and when access was made to services, as did a belief that the services on offer were inappropriate for them.

Existing channels for communicating information about the help available were clearly not appropriate for farming families, the report says.

Farmers generally lacked knowledge about the symptoms of depression although service providers perceived themselves to be aware of farmers problems.

But the researchers found that communication between different services and geographical areas was poor.

They recommended that efforts be made to lessen the stigma of mental illness through improving peoples understanding of depression and stress.

Schools and Young Farmers Clubs needed to find ways of encouraging young men to express their emotions,.

All rural organisations, the media and farming press should make people more aware of the problem and the help available.

The report recommends that key professionals should be trained to recognise symptoms of depression in individuals who may seek to hide them.

John Wynn-Jones, director of the Powys-based Institute of Rural Health, said help must reach farmers before stress levels exceeded their capacity to cope.

A key task must be to reduce the stigma of mental illness, he said.