2020-11-23: Research looks at early suicide triggers – Farm Weekly

by Bree Swift

RESEARCH to develop more targeted suicide prevention strategies for farmers is being undertaken by the National Centre for Farmer Health.

AgSPACE is an agricultural suicide prevention project that analyses coronial evidence to reduce the reliance of anecdotal reporting of suicide in rural farming communites.

A partnership between Deakin University and the Western District Health Service, Victoria, the project aims to demystify farmer suicide and compare suicide data of Australian farming regions.

“The work is focussed on prevention and early identification of risk factors associated with farming populations, their health, wellbeing and safety,” said National Centre for Farmer Health research fellow Alison Kennedy.

The first stage of research was based on 1298 non-metropolitan suicide deaths, 133 of which were determined as farming related.

The project found that farming related suicides were more likely to occur with people who were identified as employed and less likely to have received mental health treatment more than six weeks before death.

“We found farming related suicides were less likely to be diagnosed with a mental illness and particularly a mood disorder and that may be through lower rates of diagnosis, but it also may be through reduced access to services and the flow-on effect of opportunities to have a condition diagnosed,” Ms Kennedy said.

“When people were seeking support it was more likely to be in that crisis stage.

“People were also less likely to have received mental health treatment from their GP and, we do know, often people in farming communities who struggle with their mental health are more likely to present to a GP with a physical health condition rather than their mental health condition – so that’s something to keep in mind for prevention efforts.

The second stage of the AgSPACE project took a more in-depth look at 820 rural suicide deaths and found that living with physical ill health within a rural area was a common theme, with limited specialist services, long wait times, the requirement for significant travel and cultural barriers to accessing health care (in that people didn’t like to ask for help and seek assistance) was prevalent.

“There was an unwillingness to confide in others about health and sometimes that even extended to family members and people within their friendship groups,” Ms Kennedy said.

“Physical ill health really increased that sense of isolation and that sense of geographic isolation really enhanced the sense of social isolation.”

Injuries often related to work, including farming or vehicle accidents that cause chronic pain were identified as a theme in the second stage of research

“There was a burden of not being able to actively contribute to work (particularly farming), family and society and a real shame and stigma surrounding the inability to manage pain on their psychological capacities,” Ms Kennedy said.

Following the outcomes of the AgSPACE research, the National Centre for Farmer Health has recommended the need for a culturally competent rural health workforce that understands the risks faced by those living in rural communities and the culture and context in which they live and work.

“We need methods where we can engage with people early in the piece so we can look after their physical and psychosocial health,” Ms Kennedy

Alternative support delivery is an area which the organisation plans to focus on through its MH4Ag program.

The program is focussed on developing a framework to deliver peer supported psychological therapy to farm community members experiencing depression or psychological distress by taking a pragmatic approach to therapy that ties into how farming communities operate.

The second aim of the project is to work with farmers and stakeholders to develop a personalised, practical action plan to help improve farmers and farming community members’ ability to proactively focus on what to do in a challenging situation, rather than what not to do.

“We’re in the co-design stage of this project and we are running some workshops to determine what the peer-supported delivery will look like, who would be most effective to deliver it, what training would be required and what are the most effective methods of engaging the community,” Ms Kennedy said.

“We have also engaged a working group to help us develop the action plan.”

For more information visit the National Centre for Farmer Health website https://farmerhealth.org.au

  • If you or someone you know needs assistance, call lifeline on 13 11 14 or RuralLink, a specialist after-hours mental health telephone service for WA rural communities on freecall 1800 552 002.