Cry for help over farm suicides

10 November 2000

Cry for help over farm suicides

By Alistair Driver

MINISTERS are being urged to do more to alleviate the problems facing farmers as the rate of farm suicides rises to its highest level for six years.

Seventy-seven farmers took their own lives last year, according to provisional data from the Office of National Statistics seen by Farmers Weekly

The provisional figure for 1999 compares with 72 farm suicides in 1998 and between 59 and 67 in the four previous years.

But the actual numbers could be higher as the statistics only include cases where coroners are absolutely certain that suicide was the cause of death.

Farm leaders said the government should fund more research into the impact of the agricultural crisis which has led to more people taking their own lives.

Rural stress groups joined the cry for help, saying that more money should be directed towards organisations which help distressed farmers.

Anecdotal evidence indicates that the rising trend could continue this year. A number of suicides have been reported among farmers in the last few weeks alone.

North Yorks farmer, Robin Cundall, showed no signs of depression before shooting himself recently at his mixed farm in Fryton, Malton.

Mr Cundall, 48, had been harvesting potatoes shortly before. Written notes were found near his body. He leaves a wife and three children.

Suicide rates among farmers are among the highest in the country, with only a handful people in other occupations, including medicine, suffering more.

Rural help groups and farming organisations said the figures corresponded with the worsening emotional state of producers suffering from the farm crisis.

Caroline Davies, director of the Rural Stress Information Network, said distress calls to her organisation had doubled in each of the past few years.

George Dunn, chief executive of the Tenant Farmers Association said: “We need to get to the root cause causes of the problem to be able to help.”

“Farmers face social exclusion, isolation, long hours and family pressures, all of which are now compounded by falling incomes.”

Rev Gordon Gatward, who has helped many distressed farmers, urged ministers to fund a study into the true impact of the crisis on family farmers.

“Too much of the current information is anecdotal,” he said.

Rev Gatward welcomed recent government funding enabling rural stress organisations to extend their activities but said more was needed.

Ben Gill, president of the National Farmers Union, said: “There is not a farmer in the country who cannot name at least one friend, associate or colleague from within the industry who has taken his life because of the intense concerns they have for the future.”

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