In the News

Hays Post
Cristina Janney

Tariff wars, low commodity prices, weather and isolation all take their toll on farmers and rural residents who depend on the agriculture economy.

Those stresses are starting to show in some alarming statistics in northwest Kansas.

Between 2014 and 2017, the suicide rate in the 20 northwest counties served by High Plains Mental Health increased by 64 percent. In addition, a Centers for Disease Control study released in July 2016 reported farmers, fisherman and forestry workers as a group had the highest suicide rate of any occupation in the U.S.

High Plains Mental Health is trying to reach out to this affected population through new printed materials, telemedicine services and Mental Health First Aid training.

The suicide rates are not just getting attention from community mental health professionals.

Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., championed  the Farmers First Act, part of the most recent Farm Bill. The act establishes helplines and suicide prevention training for farm advocates, and re-establishes the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network through state departments of agriculture, state Extension services and nonprofits.

“We don’t know completely,” David Anderson, High Plains director of clinical services, said when asked why he thought the number of suicides had jumped. “I think we believe certainly the farm economy plays a role in that. It may be that they are being more accurately counted. There was certainly a time, because of the stigma around suicide, that corners, particularly in small communities, there was some desire to not attach a suicide to a what might have been called an accidental death.”

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