Munchies

Down on the Farm

Being a farmer isn’t all verdant pastures. It’s a physically demanding job with all-weather hours—often working alone. Add in easier access to firearms and declining food prices, and you have a potentially lethal combination.

by Phoebe Hurst
Apr 12 2016, 12:00pm

Photo by Bruno Bayley.

british-farmer-suicide-rate

Photo by Bruno Bayley.

Two summers ago, Rob Chapman took his own life. He was 29 years old and lived in Northamptonshire. He was also a farmer—a job he loved, according to friends.

We can never know exactly what drove Rob to kill himself but he's sadly far from the only in his profession to do so. Being a farmer isn't all verdant pastures and contented chickens. It's a job that requires long, physically demanding, all-weather hours out in the fields or the milking shed—often working alone. Add in easier access to firearms and a global collapse in food prices that saw some farmers earn less than minimum wage last year, and you have a potentially lethal combination. Unsurprisingly, the Centre for Suicide Research at Oxford University classifies farming as a "high risk occupation for suicide."

But the farming community is fighting back. The National Federation of Young Farmers' Clubs runs RURAL+, a campaign raising awareness of mental health issues in the agricultural profession. Another initiative, You Are Not Alone (YANA), is a Norfolk-based helpline that offers support to farmers suffering with stress or depression. A drop in farming suicides after the 1989 introduction of national legislation on firearm ownership offers hope that such direct action can curb this trend.

"It's just getting across that really basic message: please talk to people because they can make a difference," says YANA trustee Michael Pollitt. "Suicide is a terrible, terrible tragedy, not just for the immediate family and friends but everyone in the rural community."

Rob hasn't been forgotten. In July, his friends started a social media campaign urging Twitter and Facebook users to post "tractor selfies" and donate money to suicide prevention charities.

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43 British farmers committed suicide in 2013.

557,000 people work in agriculture in the UK.

1 farmer commits suicide a week in the UK.

40 percent of suicides in the farming industry involve firearms.

Ten-fold increase in farmer suicide in the UK during the foot-and-mouth outbreak in 2001.

87,000 British farm workers left the industry between 1993 and 2001.

£1.5 million was pledged by the UK government in 2012 towards a national suicide prevention strategy, with particular attention paid to the farming community.

This article appears in the April issue of VICE Magazine.