11.27.19

WITH WYOMING COUNTY HAVING THE HIGHEST SUICIDE RATE IN FINGER LAKES & WNY REGIONS, SCHUMER STANDS WITH LOCAL FARMERS TO LAUNCH 2-PRONGED PLAN TO COMBAT DEVASTATING TREND WITHIN FARMING INDUSTRY; WITH INTENSIFYING PRESSURE ON FARMERS, FEDS MUST DO FAR MORE TO REACH UPSTATE NY FARMERS IN PAIN & SAVE LIVES IN WNY

Farmers & Ranchers Are Disproportionately Impacted by Suicide; However, No Comprehensive CDC Data On The Crisis Exists 

To Address The Mental Health Crisis On Rochester-Finger Lakes Farms & Throughout Upstate, Schumer Calls On CDC To Conduct Comprehensive & Much-Needed Study On Farmer Suicides; Urges Congress To Pass Seeding Rural Resilience Act ASAP 

Schumer: WNY And Finger Lakes Farmers Are Calling Out For A Lifeline—The Feds Need To Lead & Extend A Hand, Now

Standing at Patrick McCormick’s Dairy Farm in Wyoming County, flanked by local farmers, officials, and health experts, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today launched a significant new effort to combat the alarming rise in suicide deaths among farmers. While suicide is a pressing public health crisis across the United States, farmers face a number of stressors that can negatively impact mental health, including financial issues, climate and weather challenges, farm or business problems, and fear of losing their farm. In making his argument, Schumer pointed to data showing that farmers and ranchers have a suicide rate that is 3.5 times that of the general population. To address this escalating issue, which is doing real damage to farmers in the GLOW Region of Upstate New York, Schumer launched a two-pronged plan. First, he called on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to conduct a first-of-its-kind, comprehensive study of suicides among farmers. Second, he called on Congress to expediently pass the Seeding Rural Resilience Act, which would establish a number of initiatives designed to quell farmer suicides. 

“On a good day our family farmers work long hours on tight margins. Our farmers are beset by enormous pressures, and so many factors out of their control—from bad weather to bad government policy to giant swings in the economic cycle—that for too many it becomes too much and tragedy ensues. That is why we need to break through the silence, and why we must together confront this challenge, offer better avenues for our farmers who are hurting to getting help, and do more studies so we have a real handle on the depth of the mental health challenge we face,” said Senator Schumer.

Additionally, Schumer argued that, “Farmers face a number of unique circumstances that can negatively influence mental health, including a constant fear of losing their farm. These stressors, which can be exacerbated by stigma and inadequate access to mental health services in underserved, rural areas, have manifested in a disproportionate rate of suicide among farmers. We need better mental health care for farmers, better information on how they can access that care, and better data on the nature and extent of the problem.”

Schumer explained that suicide has increasingly become a major public health crisis in Upstate New York and the GLOW Region. In New York State, the suicide rate has increased by more than 28% over the past two decades. Specifically, Wyoming County has the 8th highest suicide rate in New York State, and the highest in the Rochester-Finger Lakes Region. According to the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH), 22 individuals died by suicide in Wyoming County from 2015 to 2017, representing a rate of 18 deaths per 100,000 people. Nationwide, a total of 47,173 Americans died by suicide in 2017, well above 2016’s recorded total of 44,695. Schumer said that this follows an alarming trend that has seen the national suicide rate increase by 33% since1999. 

For example, Schumer highlighted data shows showing that farmers and ranchers, on average, have a suicide rate that is 3.5 times higher than that of the general population. Furthermore, Schumer pointed to a 2018 CDC report on suicide rates by major occupational groups that determined if farmers, ranchers and agricultural managers were categorized as a separate occupational group, the population would have ranked 1st in suicides in 2012 and 4th in 2015. Schumer argued that these findings highlight the urgent need for federal prioritization of the issue of suicide among farmers.

Schumer said that immediate action is necessary to address the tragic epidemic of suicide among farmers, and that the first step is to have sufficient and complete data on the issue. Because, Schumer explained, even though rural farmers are in desperate need of mental health support, the CDC has not yet conducted a comprehensive study of farmer suicides. So, he urged the CDC to conduct further research on suicide among farmers nationwide, with a specific focus on Upstate New York and the GLOW Region. Additionally, Schumer urged CDC to collaborate with the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Labor in order to ensure that the most up-to-date and precise data on farmers and their health outcomes can be included in future analyses. Schumer maintained that an updated analysis, including all New York farmers, would not only offer a more precise measure of suicide prevalence, but could also better inform research on risk factors and intervention methods associated with farmer suicide. 

The CDC has previously acknowledged that its 2018 report on suicides was limited in scope, as it only considered data from 17 states participating in the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS) in both 2012 and 2015. Also, it is estimated that the 17 states included in the 2018 study only represented roughly one quarter of farms across the country. Now that all 50 states participate in the NVDRS, Schumer explained the CDC now has data that is representative of the entire nation and the farmer population.

Second, Schumer urged Congress to expediently consider and pass the Seeding Rural Resilience Act. Introduced in the Senate by Senators Jon Tester [D-MT] and Chuck Grassley [R-IA], this bipartisan legislation would establish three initiatives designed to help farmers cope with issues of mental health, including:

  • Establish a requirement for USDA to offer voluntary stress management training to employees of the Farm Service Agency, Risk Management Agency and National Resources Conservation Service
  • Authorize the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and USDA to execute a $3 million public awareness campaign about mental health issues on farms and ranches and to destigmatize mental health care in rural areas
  • Require the Secretary of Agriculture to collaborate with stakeholders from state and local governments, as well as the agricultural industry, to issue best practices to address mental health issues on farms and ranches

In conclusion, Schumer said that he is proud to represent nearly 55,000 people employed by over 33,000 farms in New York State, and that the crisis of suicide amongst them demands a comprehensive response from the government. Passing the Seeding Rural Resilience Act and collecting precise data on the rates of farmer and rancher suicide would be important places to start, Schumer argued.

A copy of Schumer’s letter to the CDC appears below.

Dear Director Redfield:

I write today to respectfully request the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conduct further research on suicide among farmers. With suicide rates on the rise across the country, it is crucial that the CDC use its epidemiological expertise and surveillance resources to better understand this concerning trend that is devastating our nation’s farmers. 

Suicide has increasingly become a major public health crisis in the United States. In 2017, a total of 47,173 Americans died by suicide, well above 2016’s recorded total of 44,695. This increase aligns with a CDC report that found the national suicide rate was 33% higher in 2017 than it was in 1999, equating to a rate of 14 suicide deaths per 100,000 people. Specifically, in my home state of New York, the suicide rate has increased over 28 percent during the past two decades. Although this nationwide phenomenon has affected all populations, I am particular alarmed by the impact on our farmers.

Farmers face a number of stressors that can negatively influence mental health, including financial issues, farm or business problems, and fear of losing the farm. These stressors, which can be exacerbated by stigma and inadequate access to mental health services in underserved areas, have manifested in a disproportionate rate of suicide among farmers. For instance, one study found that farmers and ranchers, on average, have a suicide rate that is 3.5 times that of the general population. Additionally, a 2018 CDC report on suicide rates by major occupational groups determined that if farmers, ranchers, and agricultural managers were categorized as a separate occupational group, this population would have ranked 1st and 4th in suicides in 2012 and 2015. These findings highlight the urgent need for federal prioritization of research on suicide among farmers.

Our rural farmers are in desperate need of mental health support, yet the CDC has not conducted a comprehensive study of farmer suicides. Action must be taken to address this tragic epidemic, and the vital first step is to develop a data set that will serve as a roadmap for interventions. Therefore, I urge the CDC to conduct further research on suicide among farmers nationwide, particularly in New York. The agency has acknowledged that the 2018 report was limited in scope, as it only encompassed data from the 17 states that were participating in the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS) in both 2012 and 2015. Also, it is estimated that the 17 states included in the original study only represented roughly a quarter of all farms across the country. Now that all 50 states are participating in the NVDRS, the CDC has data that is representative of the entire nation and the farmer population. An updated analysis, one that includes New York farmers, would not only offer a more precise measure of suicide prevalence, but could also better inform research on risk factors and intervention methods associated with farmer suicide. 

Furthermore, I encourage the CDC to collaborate with the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Labor in order to ensure that the most up-to-date and precise data on farmers and their health outcomes can be included in future analyses. Our farmers deserve nothing less than the most accurate information that the government has to offer. 

I am proud to represent nearly 55,000 people employed by over 33,000 farms in the state of New York. While I am grateful for your actions to date in support of suicide surveillance and prevention, I urge you to further prioritize this work within the CDC’s activities and funding. I stand ready to work with you, and welcome any input on ways in which Congress can assist in these efforts. Thank you for your consideration of these important requests. 

Sincerely,

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