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- The deepest economic depression in the California dairy industry since the Great Depression has bared a subject far more compelling than the cost of feed and the price of milk. It is suicide.
Whitaker said Sept. 6-12 is National Suicide Prevention Week, and his task force is planning a number of outreach efforts during that week. He said that will include discussing risk factors that go beyond simply preventing suicide.
“What we’ll do is the equivalent of washing your hands to prevent a cold, rather than just focusing on the cold medicine.” For example, efforts will include providing information on how to address issues with lenders.
Whitaker said an effort will be made to reach “first responders” to financial stress, and that can include “the hair salon, where people may open up.” He cited a key resource for anyone contemplating suicide or even those seeking to prevent suicide – a hotline that is available around the clock and can be used anywhere in the United States. It connects the caller to a certified crisis center where the call is placed. The number: (800) 273-8255.
He said other resources include the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Web site at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org. Another resource is www.lifeline-gallery.org, which can help those who may be suicidal and those who are survivors of suicide, who share their stories anonymously.
AgriWellness Inc., a non-profit in Harlan, Iowa, provides administrative support on behavioral health in seven states, offering both suicide hotlines and help lines for those wrestling with behavioral health issues.
Mike Rosmann, a clinical psychologist who has a row crop farm in Iowa, is the executive director for AgriWellness, an organization that had its origin in 2001 following the farm crisis of the 1980s. The number of callers to his organization has risen significantly and the reasons for calling are more serious than they were before the nation’s economic decline.
“For example, in Wisconsin, the number increased 20 percent when the first four months of 2009 are compared to 2008. It rose from 431 to 438. The number of callers who indicated financial stress in 2008 totaled 130 – for 2009, it was 252. Three callers indicated they faced severe stress and 41 noted high stress in 2008. In 2009, there were eight reports of severe stress and 68 for high stress.
Rosmann said it takes as much as a year and half for the Centers for Disease Control to release statistics on actual suicides.
He said the bond between people who work the land and their land is strong.
“Sometimes they envision the possible loss of the land and livestock,” he said. “They react by working ever harder. They become so exhausted, their sleep deteriorates, they become emotionally drained, fatigued and depressed.”
Rosmann said Congress is considering legislation that would fund a “farm and ranch stress assistance network.”
He said suicide links to losing land and livestock can be strong, referring to the increased suicide rate in Great Britain in the wake of animal destruction due to foot and mouth, and mad cow disease.
Randy Weigel, Extension specialist at the University of Wyoming, said some symptoms of stress – including difficulty sleeping or oversleeping and weight loss – could also stem from other medical conditions.
“The person should see their primary caregiver. The symptoms could be a physical ailment,” he said.
Wyoming is regularly among the top three states in suicide. Weigel said factors could be isolation, a high percentage of firearms and a lack of health resources.