ASSESSING SUICIDE RISKS
HERE’S WHAT TO DO IF YOU’RE WORRIED ABOUT A FAMILY MEMBER OR FRIEND WHO MAY HAVE A MENTAL HEALTH ILLNESS OR BE AT RISK FOR SUICIDE.
While financial experts say that the struggling farm economy of today is not a parallel to the farm crisis of the 1980s, the suicide rates show there is a cause for concern. Today’s suicide rate for farmers is higher than it was during the farm crisis. In 1982, the suicide rate among male farmers peaked at 58 suicides per 100,000 farmers, according to data by the National Farm Medicine Center. The most recent suicide data available for farmers, collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2012 and released in 2016, shows that suicide rates for workers in the farming, fishing, and forestry industries have risen to 90.5 per 100,000.
“Farmers are more isolated,” says Jami Dellifield, an Ohio State University Extension educator. The CDC report also points to social isolation as well as the potential for financial losses, barriers to seeking mental health services, and access to lethal means as factors that might contribute to suicide.
Extension to the Rescue
While Extension may not be the first place you turn for mental health services, Dellifield says it is a natural fit. “We are in all 50 states, in the majority of counties, and we work with everyone,” she explains. “Our job is to help people find researched-based information to make their lives better.”
Dellifield’s background makes her distinctly qualified for this initiative. She has an undergraduate degree in psychology, is trained as a certified mental health first aid instructor (Mentalhealthfirstaid.org), and says she has always had an interest in mental health awareness.
“I want to help people be the best they can be,” she says. “One in five American adults are diagnosed with a mental illness, and that doesn’t include those who don’t seek help. I want people to know there is help out there, and I want Extension professionals to lead people in the right direction to find help in their communities.”
In conjunction with the North Central Regional Center for Rural Development and Community Assessment and Education to Promote Behavioral Health Planning and Evaluation (CAPE), Ohio State University Extension is bringing community action planning and awareness about behavior health to rural communities.
Other Extension offices are also working to provide more courses and resources. For example, Michigan State University Extension is offering an online course for managing farm stress.
How you can Help
If you’re worried about a family member or friend who may have a mental health illness or be at risk for suicide or harm, Dellifield recommends following these three steps.
1. Track how long the symptoms last. “If you notice symptoms continue for more than three to four weeks, that’s when we say it’s more than just a mood swing,” says Dellifield. Symptoms can include sleeping more, anger, self-medicating, an increase in alcohol use, loss of appetite, and social withdrawal.
2. Bring in other people. “Ask others, ‘Are you noticing this because I’m concerned,’ ” advises Dellifield.
“One of the hardest things is that this is not a casserole disease.” – Jami Dellifield
3. Encourage interactions, whether those are family gatherings or attending church.
The mental health first aid program recommends five steps – ALGEE – when
addressing a loved one: A. Assess for risk of suicide or harm. “Be bold and ask, ‘I notice you aren’t being yourself lately. Have you thought about killing yourself or harming yourself?’ ” advises Dellifield. “Sometimes that’s enough to shock people into realizing they haven’t been acting like themselves.” L. Listen and listen nonjudgmentally. G. Give information. “There are lots of wonderful websites and books you can give to someone,” says Dellifield. E. Encourage appropriate professional help. E. Encourage self-help.
Then, continue to be there for your loved ones and talk about what they are going through.
“One of the hardest things is that this is not a casserole disease. You find out that someone has been diagnosed with cancer and we rally around them,” explains Dellifield.
She has seen this happen firsthand. Her husband is a stage-four cancer survivor, and their community was phenomenal, she says, in bringing meals, helping out, and taking him to doctor’s appointments.
“I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder 14 years ago, and it’s interesting because very few people asked, ‘Did you go to the doctor? What did they say? Are you taking your medication?’ ” she shares.
“Friends and family should be encouraging,” she adds. Offer to bring your loved ones to their appointments or take them out for coffee.
“If it’s a financial worry, do something that doesn’t cost money. It doesn’t cost anything to be a good listener,” she says.
One last bit of advice. Don’t tell someone to just snap out of it.
“When you’re in it, it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” she says.
There are resources available, depending on your need and preferred method. 1. National Suicide Prevention Hotline. Call 800/273-8255 or chat on the website at Suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
2. Crisis Text Line. Text CONNECT to 741741.
3. Calm Harm app. This walks you through the steps to reset, and it helps you breathe. 4. Local health department. “Calling the nurses at your local health department is a great first step to anything you need,” says Dellifield.
When you’re looking up information online, make sure to focus on sites with .gov, .edu, or .extension so you know you are getting research-based information, says Dellifield. “Without those words, you don’t know who decided to put that information out, and it could be harmful.
“Remember, there is hope. There are lots of individuals who are living with a mental illness,” encourages Dellifield. “You do not have to give up. Keep fighting, be open, be honest, and ask for help if you need it.”
Jami Dellifield is an Ohio State University Extension educator.