Concerns over high suicide rate among Swiss farmers

Concerns over high suicide rate among Swiss farmers
Suicide among Swiss farmers was long a taboo subject. File photo: AFP
Farmers are 37 percent more likely than other men in rural communities to commit suicide, a new study has found.

The study carried out by researchers at the University of Bern looked at the suicide rate among 1.8 million Swiss men aged 35 to 74 living in rural communities from 1991 to 2014. It found an overall suicide rate of 33 per 100,000.

But for farmers, this rate was 38 per 100,000. Of the around 90,000 farmers looked at in the study, 447 had committed suicide.

Read also: Desperate farmers driven to suicide – support group

In addition, since 2003, the number of men from rural communes committing suicide has clearly dropped while there has been a slight increase among farmers. The result is a 37 percent higher risk of suicide among farmers in recent years.

“It wasn't a great surprise that the suicide rate among farmers was higher, as this is the case in other countries,” researcher Nicole Steck from the Institute of Social and Preventative Medicine at the University of Bern told The Local via email.

“What did surprise us slightly is that the problem has shown up clearly in the last ten years, but less so beforehand,” she added.

Bern-based mediator Franziska Feller says the cause lies in the unbreakable link between family and business among farmers.

“A crisis in the marriage has a direct, negative influence on work and vice versa,” she told Swiss newspaper SonntagsZeitung.

Fears about the future also played a part, she said, noting older farmers often struggle with digitalization or increasing bureaucracy. She added that many were unable to find people to take over their farm, while others handed over their property and then felt “worthless”.

Thomas Reisch who heads up a clinic specialising in depression in Münsingen, Bern, said farmers needed help as quickly as possible if suicide was to be prevented.

“But it’s farmers who are often silent. They often struggle to ask for help from others,” he said.

A total of 1,073 people committed suicide in Switzerland in 2015, the latest year for which statistics are available. That is down from 1,419 in 1995.

However, around 10,000 to 15,000 people a year are reported as having attempted to commit suicide.