25 July 1997

No specific pattern to farm suicides – study

STRESS within the agricultural community is endemic but it is impossible to say whether farmers from certain sectors are more likely to take their lives, according to research by Oxford Universitys department of psychiatry.

Full results from the three-year study of suicides in high risk groups, funded by the Department of Health, are expected in the autumn. But interim evidence suggests it is impossible to draw specific geographical or socio-economic patterns.

Project co-ordinator Keith Hawton has studied up to 50 farm suicides, looking at the farmers strengths and weaknesses and talking to friends and family of the victims.

With the aid of the NFU and the Farmers Union of Wales, Prof Hawton has also sent questionnaires to 1000 farmers, asking them about stress patterns.

Nick Read, head of the Rural Stress Information Network, said there had been a 50% response rate from farmers, who blamed stress on the weather, isolation and increasing bureaucracy from both Whitehall and Brussels.

"Unfortunately, the interim results showed no easily drawn correlations, no geographical patterns, but that stress was endemic within the farming community.

"There is no evidence that livestock farmers are more stressed than cereal producers, or that Cumbrian upland farmers are more concerned than lowland producers, which makes it difficult to know who and where to target."

Tony McDougal