Pretty much everybody in farming knows someone who has killed themselves.
It’s a sad fact and one that only struck me recently when discussing with a group of farmers why suicide rates are stubbornly – and tragically – high in the countryside.
There are no two ways about it: suicide is a tragedy on multiple levels. A tragedy for the individual involved and for those left behind.
There are lots of reasons why farming people are potentially vulnerable. The job’s stressful nature; the sense of loneliness; the private nature of those involved. And let’s be honest: we’re hardly front of the queue when it comes to talking about problems and seeking help, are we? Another inescapable factor is the easy access farmers have to what is euphemistically described as “lethal means”.
There are some acute current pressures, too. This year was the worst wheat harvest for 25 years (new figures confirmed that this week) plus many livestock farmers are facing a double whammy of falling prices and rising costs. It all adds up to one thing: yet more financial pressure and worry.
Whatever the reasons, the statistics make for grim reading. But this isn’t about statistics. It’s about people. People like you and me. And people like the ones we all know.
The last thing we want to do here is be sensationalist; we don’t want to cause one ounce of extra pain to anyone who’s lost a loved one, friend or neighbour. But, like mental health issues (another great taboo), the subject still doesn’t get talked about enough.
Perhaps that’s not surprising. It can be hard to know where to start and what to say; we can be worried about not having the right words, about getting it wrong. The whole issue is upsetting, painful and it’s sometimes easier, frankly, to pretend that it isn’t happening.
But it is – and not thinking about it won’t make it go away.
There are some things we can all do if – heaven forbid – we know someone who we think may be at risk or, indeed, if we find ourselves in that awful position.
We’ve pulled some of this information and advice together in this week’s issue. We hope you read it and that you never find yourself needing to reflect too closely on it. But the reality is, some of the people reading this right now – people just like you and me, possibly even actually you or me – will find they have cause to at some point in their lives. If farming teaches you one thing, it’s that you never know exactly what’s around the next corner.
Talking about suicide can be difficult and painful. But talking about it could just save a life.
Tim Relf is Farmers Weekly’s community and farmlife editor