Consultations with farmers may be an opportunity for mental health intervention.
The perception that farmers do not seek help for their health before committing suicide has been rebutted by Australian researchers who have shown they do go to the doctor — but often for physical health complaints rather than psychological ones.
The study from the Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention shows almost half of farming and agricultural workers sought help from a GP for a physical condition in the three months prior to their death by suicide.
The results will hopefully lead to targeted education and training for rural GPs to identify appropriate referral pathways, said Dr Samara McPhedran, lead researcher and senior research Fellow at the Griffith University institute, Brisbane.
“There is a perception that farmers don’t seek help for anything. Contrary to… assumptions that are made, quite a number of farmers sought help prior to their death,” Dr McPhedran said.
The help GPs offer farmers needed to reach further than psychological counselling, Dr McPhedran said.
“Some types of help might be very practical. It might be the farmer considered taking his own life because of financial stresses so he may need assistance on the financial front,” she said. “It is important to ensure people at risk can access the right types of help that they need.”
Using data from the Queensland Suicide Register, researchers looked at contact with health care providers in the three months prior to the suicide of 1375 rural men. Of these, 15.4% were in farming and agricultural occupations. The mean age of death among this group was 43 years, compared to a mean age of 37.5 years for other working men on the register.
A total 48% of the farm workers had seen a GP for a physical health complaint in the three months prior to death.
Future education and training of rural GPs needs to look at ways of identifying risks that weren’t overtly related to suicide, the study researchers commented.
“The observation that 102 men who later died by suicide had seen only a GP, rather than a mental health professional, emphasises the apparent need for GPs in rural areas to be cognisant of suicide indicators and risk factors,” they stated.
Dr McPhedran said it appeared GPs in rural communities may play a more important role than previously considered.
“We can’t say how those interventions might have been but we can certainly say, among farmers, there are more points of intervention than previously thought.”
As first appeared in Medical Observer, 6 August 2013. Source: Aust J Prim Health 2013; in press