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They Grow Our Food, and They're Killing Themselves

Newser — Kate Seamons

On the day in May 2011 that Matt Peters took his own life, he spoke on the phone with Dr. Mike Rosmann. Rosmann, himself an Iowa farmer, is also a psychologist who doubles as "one of the nation’s leading farmer behavioral health experts," writes Debbie Weingarten for the Guardian.

She knows that firsthand: The former vegetable farmer, weighed down by depression, once called Rosmann herself. "We were growing food, but couldn't afford to buy it. We worked 80 hours a week, but we couldn't afford to see a dentist, let alone a therapist. I remember panic when a late freeze threatened our crop, the constant fights about money," she writes.

And she's not alone. Weingarten cites CDC figures that show the industry with the highest suicide rate is agriculture.

As for possible reasons why, the CDC lists "social isolation, potential for financial losses, barriers to and unwillingness to seek mental health services (which might be limited in rural areas), and access to lethal means." And the financial picture isn't pretty right now, with Weingarten noting the median farm income for this year is expected to be negative $1,325.

Rosmann says many farmers' issues can be addressed in no more than five therapy sessions, something he likens to an Employee Assistance Program. Congress in 2008 voted not to fund the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network, a program that would have made hotlines and counseling available to farmers.

The cost would have been $18 million a year; Rosmann maintains that the price we pay annually due to suicide is much higher. Read Weingarten's full piece here.

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