Griffith investigates high rates of farmer suicide

Dr Kairi Kolves

The reasons behind the high rates of suicide among Australian farmers are set to be investigated at Griffith University.

In conjunction with the University of Newcastle and other partners, the study Influences on farmer suicide in Queensland and New South Wales, funded by the Australian
Research Council and industry partners, aims to provide greater detail about risk and protective factors surrounding suicide by farmers.

“Incidence of suicide in Queensland farmers is significantly higher compared to other occupational groups and to the national average, and many factors contribute to this
increased risk,” says Dr Kairi Kolves from Griffith’s Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention.

“The purpose of this study is to analyse individual and environmental factors related to suicide in farming communities.”

Dr Kolves says that based on a preliminary study of Queensland Suicide Register (QSR) data, it appears that around 40 per cent of Queensland farmers who died by suicide between 1990 and 2008 had some form of contact with a mental health professional three months before death.

“It appears that a substantial proportion of farmers are seeking help for mental health problems prior to death by suicide, which challenges the common assumption that farmers are unlikely to seek help,” she says. “In addition we need to ask whether current mental health services are delivering support and interventions that take into account specific needs and characteristics of farmers and their communities.

A wider perspective

“We have to look into farmers’ lives from a wider perspective, go beyond mental illness, and examine the environment and other stressors, which would help us to design
interventions targeting needs of farmers and their communities.”

The research will analyse environmental and occupational factors affecting areas where farmers live, as well as individual factors such as mental illness and distressing life events as precipitating factors for suicide.

In order to explore risk and protective factors there is a need to have a comparison (control) group; current study compares farmer suicides to sudden deaths and living
farmers. The researchers are encouraging the next-of-kin of either a farmer who has died by suicide, a farmer who died by sudden death, or a living farmer to participate in the study.

The study is looking for participants to take part in a phone interview conducted by a clinical interviewer where they will talk about your close one.
Participants need to be aged 18 years or over; be the next-of-kin of either a farmer who has died by suicide, a farmer who died by sudden death, or a living farmer. Participants also need to be willing to give two hours of their time to talk.

For more information please contact Lisa Kunde on 07 3735 1144 or [email protected]