Suicide hits hard for farming families

Friday, June 5, 2015

Research finds farmers get on with the job as a way of coping with personal loss.

“WHEN a crop dies, it’s my job to figure out why, but when my brother died by suicide I couldn’t figure out
why… and that has nearly killed me.”

That is just one heart-wrenching quote PhD candidate Alison Kennedy has heard as part of her research into
the Impact of Suicide and Accidental Death on Farming Families.Ms Kennedy was one of the presenters at the National Rural Health Conference in Darwin last week.

A Research Fellow with National Centre for Farmer Health, Ms Kennedy has spent the past three-and-a half
years undertaking her PhD and she said while there had been a lot of work done in the area of preventing
suicide in rural and farming communities, the research on what impact deaths had on those left behind was
not as extensive.

“There is a lot of awareness about suicide in the rural sector, but there probably isn’t a high level of
awareness about the differences between groups within the sector and how suicide impacts those groups,”
Ms Kennedy said.

Ms Kennedy is in the final stages of her PhD and as part of the process has conducted a lot of “long
interviews”.

Through the research she said she had found that people in the farming sector were generally very goal
orientated and practically focused.

“I have found that farming people tend to have a very pragmatic outlook upon life and as a result they tend to
avoid the emotional distractions with things that happen in everyday life,” she said.

“So people who are impacted by a traumatic death tend to throw themselves into the farm work and sort of
connect with the person who has died by getting on with keeping the farm going.

“I found that those people who do that tend to do a lot better than people who have more of an emotional
reaction to bereavement and find that they need help, but they don’t know how to ask for it.”

Ms Kennedy said another important aspect about farming families she discovered through her research was
they were tremendous at offering help to others.

“The people are fantastic at volunteering help, but they tend not to be so good at asking for help for
themselves … and I found that was particularly the case when it comes to emotional issues,” she said.

“Farming families are much more likely to seek help from someone they have a relationship with. That trust
and rapport is a key for them.”

Ms Kennedy said providing services for people when they needed it was the key to supporting them through
traumatic emotional times.

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