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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 25 February, 2003, 00:02 GMT
Farmers 'more likely to be suicidal'
Millions of animals were slaughtered due to foot-and-mouth
British farmers are more than twice as likely to contemplate suicide compared with the general public, warn experts.

They said this could be because farmers are less likely to admit their mental health problems than others and that this could lead to higher rates of depression.

The study in the British Medical Journal's Occupational and Environmental Medicine, called for the health of farmers to be carefully monitored in the aftermath of the foot-and-mouth crisis.

The authors said that witnessing so much death among livestock could give farmers a fatalistic view of their lives.


They also point out that farmers have easier access to guns, poisons and other means of committing suicide.

The researchers from the Department of Psychological Medicine at the University of Wales College of Medicine, in Cardiff, studied 425 farmers from Hereford, Norwich and Preston.

We suggested that possibly farmers might be relatively reluctant to admit to having mental health problems
Dr Hollie Thomas

The farmers were quizzed on their mental health and the results were compared to a similar survey of the general public.

Farmers told the scientists they were suffering fatigue, irritability and sleep problems, also suffered by the population as a whole.

Among the farmers, 6% reported having poor mental health, which was lower than the national average.

But 3% of farmers admitted they thought life was not worth living and just under 1% said they had thought of killing themselves.

This statistic surprised report author Dr Hollie Thomas.

"We suggested that possibly farmers might be relatively reluctant to admit to having mental health problems," she said.


She added that when set against the low rates of reported depression farmers were twice as likely as their non-agricultural peers to think life was not worth living.

When compared to other people in rural or semi-rural areas farmers were three times as likely to feel this way.

The report also found that one in 10 farmers said they were suffering financial difficulties and 14% said they had debts they could not meet.

A spokesman for the National Farmer's Union (NFU) said the survey accurately reflected the "depths of misery" suffered by farmers.

"There is not a farmer in the country that cannot name at least one friend, associate or colleague from within the industry who has taken his life because of the concerns they have for the future," he said.

'Desperate situation'

"This research quantifies the depth of misery, broken families and despair farmers are experiencing due to the agricultural crisis.

"It is a measure of the spirit and determination of farmers that the vast majority are battling on despite the dire state of their industry.

"The NFU is committed to its continuing campaign to ensure that everything that can be done is being done to help turn around this desperate situation."

James Morrish from the Rural Stress Information Network said: "Farmers are likely not to admit to depression because many don't know what it is. Also they don't want to let the family down.

"Many have had farms passed down through generations. They feel they mustn't be the first generation that fails."

Sheep dip linked to depression
07 Nov 02 |  England

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