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High suicide rates among farmers -

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BRENDAN TREMBATH: New research has found farm workers are twice as likely, to take their own lives
than many other people.

The study by the Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention says the high rate could
be because farm workers tend to be loners.

The Farmers Federation says the drought has a lot to do with the high suicide rate, but others say
there is more to it.

Michael Edwards has this report.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: For years, many in the agricultural sector have spoken about the problem of
suicide in country areas.

Now, a study by the Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention has found the rate of
suicide among farm workers, including farm owners and employees aged between 15 and 65, is more
than double that of the rest of the population.

Jacinta Hawgood is the Deputy Director of the Institute.

JACINTA HAWGOOD: We found that the workers were significantly above the male suicide rate for
Queensland in the active population, and the male suicide rate in the active population is 17.74
per 100,000 compared to 36.58 for the agricultural male workers.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: The study used data from the Queensland Suicide Register between 1990 and 2004.

Jacinta Hawgood says the study proves the problem of suicide in farming communities is real, and
needs to be addressed.

JACINTA HAWGOOD: One of the biggest things in the past has been the fear that probably media has
sensationalised some of the statistics that have been quoted, and using really the drought and
financial problems as quite important political issues.

But this the first time that we've actually looked really closely and reliably at a very fixed
working population, which hasn't been done before, and have identified that yes, they are at quite
significantly higher risk, so I guess it lays the foundations for really needing to investigate
more thoroughly, what are the very specific risk factors for agriculture workers.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: In recent years, farmers - particularly in the eastern states - have had to
contend with tough conditions including drought.

Denita Wawn from the National Farmers Federation says drought is a major factor in the high rate of
suicides.

DENITA WAWN: It puts huge pressure on farm families, and provides both financial and emotional
impacts for a farming family, and hence does contribute towards suicide rates.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: But there others in the agricultural sector who think the problem is far more
complex.

Lyn Fragar is the director of the Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety based at
Moree in New South Wales.

LYN FRAGAR: Farmers and farm workers live in a very isolated position, they are both physically and
socially isolated from others, so that if their thinking is getting shifted and they are under this
stress or they are suffering any mental health condition, it's not so readily picked up by others,
and then clearly they've got the location that makes it easier perhaps for them to go through and
commit suicide, without being noticed and under the scrutiny of other people.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: Lyn Fragar says a major problem is that mental illness often goes unrecognised in
farming communities.

LYN FRAGAR: I think probably one of the most important things and actions that we need to take is
to bring farmers, farm families and the people who work with farmers up to speed in terms of
understanding what they can do, how they can recognise people who are in distress and not coping
well, so that we can give them a hand to get early to the sort of services that perhaps people in
metropolitan and urban centres can get help from.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: The Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention says governments need
to recognise regional areas suffer from a lack of services to help those with mental illness.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Michael Edwards with that report.