Ask in Earnest: Addressing mental health myths
The state of Wyoming has one of the highest suicide rates among farmers and ranchers. During WESTI Ag Days in Worland, Darla Tyler-McSherry, a Big Sandy, Mont. native and Ask in Earnest founder, addressed harmful suicide myths and steps producers, families and friends can take to help those in need.
“I used to believe suicide was this terrible, awful tragic event only happening to other families,” shared Tyler-McSherry. “This all changed for me Sept. 30, 2016 when my dad, Dick Tyler, an 82-year-old wheat farmer from Big Sandy, Mont. took his own life.”
According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 2020 report, farmers, ranchers and ag managers have the highest rate of suicide, she explained.
“The rural rate of suicide is 45 percent higher than in urban areas,” Tyler-McSherry said.
In the state of Wyoming, every 36 hours someone loses their life to suicide, and in the U.S. overall, a person is lost every 11 minutes.
She noted, “We need to take action now to save lives.”
Risk factors impacting producers
There are many different reasons why producers are impacted by suicide in rural communities.
Farmers and ranchers often experience an imbalance between work and home life. They don’t have the ability to have a psychological separation – the issues they face still impact them when they go home for the day, she explained.
Economically, it’s challenging being a producer, and for some, it can be too much.
“We don’t make it easy for people in our culture, especially men, to say, I’m hurting psychologically or I’m hurting mentally, I need help,” she said.
Exposure to pesticides, farm chemicals and grain dust can place people at higher risks because of the impacts on their neurological system.
In addition, stigmas against seeking help, trauma history or a loss of a significant other, exposure to a natural disaster, lack of mental resources, access to lethal weapons – firearms, poisons or machinery – alcohol use as a coping strategy, loneliness, anxiety and stress are other risk factors.
“Worldwide, we start to see suicides increase at elevations of 2,500 feet or more – the average elevation in Wyoming is over 4,500 feet,” she said. “It is estimated up to 90 percent of people who die from suicide have an undiagnosed and untreated mental illness at the time of their death – depression being number one and alcoholism being number two.”
Addressing harmful myths
Most suicides happen without warning is a myth of suicide, she continued by saying, “It’s estimated nearly 80 percent of people did display missed warning signs, with 20 to 30 percent of suicides happening without any warning at all.”
Another myth is people who die by suicide are selfish and take the easy way out. In reality, their sense of truth and judgement are clouded – their thinking is impaired and they don’t have the capability to make a rational decision, she explained.
Once someone is suicidal, they will always be suicidal is another myth, she noted.
“Up to 90 percent of suicide survivors don’t go on to make a future attempt if they get connected to professional help,” she said. “We don’t want to think there is nothing we can do, because it’s not true.”
“A huge stigma we have to tackle in the farming and ranching population is the myth strong people don’t kill themselves,” she added.
Action steps to save lives
There are three major concepts or words loved ones should pay attention to. Those hurting talk about being a burden, they have a loss of hope and have a loss of interest in activities they had a passion for, she noted.
On the flip side, she cautions loved ones to be careful if someone seems better – even the best anti-depressants take about four to six weeks to start to kick in, she said.
“If someone seems happier, they may feel relief as they have decided to move forward with their decision to end their life,” she added. “This is something to pay attention to.”
Never stop advocating for those hurting – encourage doctors and providers to pay attention and share with them warning signs their loved one is exhibiting.
Be willing to ask the hard questions, she noted.
“The word suicide itself is awful, ugly, vulgar, vile and I wish I didn’t have say it but I do; and loved ones have to be able to say it too if they are worried about someone. The worst thing you can say about suicide, is not saying anything at all.”
In Wyoming and Montana, two thirds of suicides involve the use of guns, she added. It is important to limit the access of lethal means of those who are having suicidal thoughts or behaviors.
Tyler-McSherry encourages those hurting to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “help” or “start” to the National Crisis Text Line at 741741.
“You don’t have to be a professional mental health counselor to save a life. Asking in earnest can make a difference,” Tyler-McSherry concluded.
For more information, visit askinearnest.org.
Brittany Gunn is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.