14 June 2002

NI suicide rate may be on rise

SUICIDES among farmers in Northern Ireland could rise because two-thirds of producers in the province feel high levels of hopelessness, a new report by Queens University, Belfast has warned.

The study, Stress in Ulster Farmers, shows that those living and working in rural areas are under extreme stress. On a hopelessness scale of 0 to 20, farmers scored an average 8.78 compared with 4.45 for the public at large. Anything above 5 is deemed "high".

A total of 3000 farmers and their workers were questioned about their personal circumstances, including the farm, their working hours, their financial situation and their sense of isolation.

"The findings show that those most likely to have a significantly higher risk of suicide are those who live alone, work more than 15 hours a day, have financial worries and dont have anyone to confide in," said Dr Tony Gallagher from the School of Psychology.

"Interestingly, those who are married and attend church on a regular basis are more likely to have lower levels of hopelessness, probably because they have more social support."

In the past it was believed that those at greatest risk of suicide had suffered from psychiatric disorders. But Dr Gallagher said: "In fact, it would appear that those who have given up hope in the future are at greater risk."

The study was commissioned by the Ulster Farmers Union. &#42