In this space I tend to share happy and encouraging thoughts or helpful hints for various parts of your business operation. But this month I felt the need to bring a sad and staggering statistic to your attention. More farmers are committing suicide than people from any other occupation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

When I heard this news on a recent NPR broadcast, my heart skipped a beat and I felt like I’d been punched in the gut.

My thoughts turned to you all, the representatives of the industry I adore, who often call yourselves “farmers.”

According to the NPR story, the uncertainty of the Farm Bill and its funding add to the mental health crisis that plagues the farming community. Whether it’s crop prices or severe weather, the farmer’s livelihood is at stake. And for some, the financial burden is more than they can bear.

NPR’s Morning Edition told the story of Iowa farmer Matt Peters, who took his life in 2011. His wife Ginnie thought it was just “normal stress” brought on by the springtime planting season. Matt was only 55 when he died, and he’d been farming for 35 years on the land that had been in his family for generations.

It all sounded so familiar to me.

That’s why I want to encourage every one of you to know the warning signs, and be aware of anyone in your circle of friends and colleagues who may be exhibiting these signs.

  • Talking about suicide – Any talk about suicide, dying, or self-harm, such as "I wish I hadn't been born," "If I see you again..." and "I'd be better off dead."
  • Seeking out lethal means – Seeking access to guns, pills, knives, or other objects that could be used in a suicide attempt.
  • Preoccupation with death – Unusual focus on death, dying, or violence. Writing poems or stories about death.
  • No hope for the future – Feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and being trapped ("There's no way out"). Belief that things will never get better or change.
  • Self-loathing, self-hatred – Feelings of worthlessness, guilt, shame, and self-hatred. Feeling like a burden ("Everyone would be better off without me").
  • Getting affairs in order – Making out a will. Giving away prized possessions. Making arrangements for family members.
  • Saying goodbye – Unusual or unexpected visits or calls to family and friends. Saying goodbye to people as if they won't be seen again.
  • Withdrawing from others – Withdrawing from friends and family. Increasing social isolation. Desire to be left alone.
  • Self-destructive behavior – Increased alcohol or drug use, reckless driving, taking unnecessary risks as if they have a "death wish."
  • Sudden sense of calm – A sudden sense of calm and happiness after being extremely depressed can mean that the person has made a decision to attempt suicide.

For anyone needing help (for yourself or others), call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The Lifeline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.