Farmers still face higher rates of suicide with one death every 10 days in Australia

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A farmer dies by suicide every 10 days according to an Australian-first study of farmer suicide rates based on 10 years of national coronial data.

National Rural Health Alliance (NRHA) policy team member Luke Sartor said “the study found that between 2009 and 2018 there were 370 farmer suicides reported”.

Alarmingly, the average suicide rate in farmers was almost 60 per cent higher than non-farmers, according to the coronial data.

Mr Sartor said that the drought, relationship breakdowns, and underlying depression were key risk factors.

But one issue that stuck out in the research was the easy access to firearms.

“We know guns are a part of everyday life on a farm,” he said.

“In fact, after the crackdown on automatic weapons following the Port Arthur mass shootings, we saw farmer suicide rates fall quite significantly. So access to firearms is an important factor.

“Farmers with certain demographic characteristics also had higher suicide rates including males, between the ages of 20 and 50, particularly those who have separated from their spouse, and middle-aged farmers.

“During the recent drought in NSW we had seen the rates of suicide increase quite a bit as well.”

Luke Sartor wearing a dark suit, white shirt and striped blue tie, smiling at the camera.Luke Sartor wearing a dark suit, white shirt and striped blue tie, smiling at the camera.
NRHA’s Luke Sartor says farmers are reluctant to reach out for help.(Supplied: NRHA)

He said part of the problem was the culture around reaching out for help from medical professionals.

“I think this research is showing that local community-based services are more likely to be successful – locals helping locals – at sporting clubs, pubs, community events, local schools.

“Just a quiet word asking people ‘how are you going?'”

Mr Sartor said it is also likely that a number of fatal car crashes in the bush involving only one vehicle were actually farmer suicides that never made it into the statistics.

And looking at the data from the middle of the drought in 2018, the farmer suicide rate jumped from 60 per cent to 94 per cent above the rate for non-farmers.

With farmers continually over-represented in suicide statistics to this significant degree, he said local programs needed to ramp up to get more targeted help.