The Washington State University Skagit County Extension has started a pilot program to educate those in the agricultural community about suicide prevention.
Extension Director Don McMoran said the Skagit Valley farming community lost a member to suicide last year, following a decline in commodity prices and the sale of a family farm.
McMoran said although it was the first agriculture-related suicide he had heard of in Skagit County, suicide among farmers is a nationwide issue.
“It really brings the need for us to educate on the subject matter,” he said.
McMoran said the program started this spring with a new suicide prevention webpage on the extension website that includes a confidential self-assessment and phone numbers for suicide crisis lines. The website is available in English and Spanish.
The extension will host training sessions on suicide warning signs. The trainings are designed for those who work with farmers.
The first training will be held from 2 to 3 p.m. Friday at the extension office, 11768 Westar Lane, Suite A, Burlington.
“(The goal is) having peers that are aware of the issue and that can provide outreach,” McMoran said.
The plan is to later implement a statewide program, he said.
In 2018, state legislators directed the state Department of Health to set up a program for suicide prevention in the agriculture industry. A task force recommended Skagit County as the pilot location.
The legislation came about after a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study reported that workers in farming, fishing and forestry had the highest suicide rates among all occupations.
However, the CDC later retracted the study due to errors in data analysis and revised the suicide rates for those in farming, fishing and forestry to eighth and ninth among occupation groups, according to a November 2018 article from the National Farmers Union.
The article noted that in 2012 the suicide rate for male agricultural managers, farmers and ranchers was twice that of the general population.
“The reality is that there’s no perfect source of information about the high levels of stress in the farming community,” Matt Perdue, government relations representative for the farmers union, said in the article. “Suicide rates represent the most dreaded outcome but fall well short of painting a complete picture of behavioral health among farmers and farmworkers.”
Washington State Dairy Federation Policy Director Jay Gordon, who was the co-chair of the task force, said he helped start a suicide prevention program 15 years ago after a farmer, who was a friend and neighbor, died by suicide.
He said the current effort in Skagit County is an opportunity to restart the program and create more resources for mental and behavioral health.
“The mental stress in the farming community has been pretty harsh,” Gordon said, in reference to falling prices and declining farmer income in recent years.
McMoran said the plan is to integrate suicide prevention training into other extension workshops, the 4-H youth program, and to work with the Northwest Agricultural Business Center and Sea Mar Community Health Centers.
“If this program saves one life, then it’s worth it,” he told Skagit County commissioners at a June 18 presentation.