Suicide – signs to look for

Suicide continues to be a cause of avoidable death among farmers in Australia, although rates of death vary significantly in different areas of Australia. Occupational, environmental, social, cultural and climatic conditions, poor access to appropriate health care services and stigma all contribute. People living on farms also have greater access to lethal means than people in the city, which increases the chance of a fatality when a suicide attempt is made.

While diagnosable mental illness can be a factor in suicide, this is not always the case. Farming can be extremely difficult at times and challenges can accumulate. After years of drought some farm families then face crop and stock losses due to floods, fires, market changes or insect attack. It can seem overwhelming. Suicide risk in farming families has also been linked to family breakdown, children leaving home, or anything that jeopardises farmers’ ability to continue farming (e.g. a debilitating injury or illness, or problems with farm transfer and farm finances). Alcohol misuse can also increase the risk of suicide.

Signs to watch out for

If someone close to you is talking about ‘ending it all’ or that they ‘can’t take anymore’, don’t ignore it. However, not everyone talks explicitly about their intention to suicide. Some signs that a person may be thinking of suicide include:

  • Talking about death or hurting themselves
  • Drinking more or using drugs
  • Saying they feel there is no way out of their problems
  • Saying their family is better off without them, or they are better off out of the way
  • Abandoning social activities and isolating themselves
  • Indications of anger or rage.

Things you can do which may help

Your role as a support person is similar to performing ‘first aid’.  That is, you do your best to support the suicidal person and link them up with professional mental health services. Do whatever it takes to get them help. Remember that people who consider suicide often change their mind. If you can offer support—even as a listening ear—you may help get them through a critical time.

  • Tell the person how important they are to you and how you and others need them.
  • Let them know that you recognise how bad they are feeling, but don’t ignore the problem.
  • Acknowledge that they are feeling terrible but that things are likely to improve with time and support.
  • If they want to talk, listen. Don’t make promises to keep your conversation secret—you may need to call on others for support.
  • Ask them if they would like to talk to someone outside the family, like an Outreach Support worker, phone counsellor at the Suicide Call Back Service (details below), or Lifeline.
  • Offer to accompany them to an appointment with their GP or a mental health professional, if this would make them more comfortable.
  • Ring a phone counselling service yourself—the counsellor may have some advice that will help.
  • Remove any means of suicide available (where possible)—including weapons, ammunition, farm chemicals, medications, alcohol and other drugs, even access to a car. Be aware of your own safety.
  • For immediate crisis intervention when life may be in danger, ring the ambulance or police on Triple Zero (Tel. 000), or take the person to your local hospital emergency department.

Fast facts:

  • Suicide continues to be a cause of avoidable death among farmers in Australia.
  • If someone close to you shows signs of not coping, or talks about ‘ending it all’—take them seriously and support them any way you can.
  • Encourage the person to Ring a 24 hour service like the Suicide Call Back Service Tel 1300 659 467 or Lifeline Tel 131 114, or ring them yourself for support and advice.
  • Remember some people talk about suicide in some way before they act and others may demonstrate this through their actions.

References used for this topic

More information:

Australian Suicide Prevention Foundation
Get Help

Beyond Blue
Myths and facts about suicide

When should I check in—I’m worried about someone.
Help someone at risk toolkit

ReachOut Australia
My friend is suicidal

ReachOut Australia
What to do if you are considering suicide

Suicide Prevention Australia
Community Support and Guidance

Research & reviews:

International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Suicide in rural Australia: Are farming-related suicides different?

Australian Bureau of Statistics
Causes of Death, 2018

Life in Mind
National Suicide Data

Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology
A regional approach to understanding farmer suicide in Queensland

Occupational Medicine
Farmer suicides: A qualitative study from Australia

International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Pathways to suicide in Australian farmers: A life chart analysis

Rural and Remote Health
Suicide and accidental death in Australia’s rural farming communities: a review of the literature