Bill to Reduce Farm Suicides nears Vote

An excessive rate of suicides among farmers has drawn the attention of lawmakers in the Washington State House of Representatives. Washington House Republicans’ John Sattgast reports from the state Capitol.

SATTGAST: Republican Representative J.T. Wilcox of Yelm comes from a family that has farmed in the Nisqually River watershed in East Pierce and Thurston counties for more than 110 years. In December, Wilcox read an article in a national publication he says deeply affected him.

WILCOX: “This article pointed out that among all occupational groups, not only in the United States, but worldwide, farmers had the leading rate of suicide. I had no idea. This has not touched me or my family.”

SATTGAST: Wilcox knows the ups and downs of good and bad seasons, the difficult work of keeping a farm running, and the high stress it can bring. The statistics made sense to him.

WILCOX: ““What you have in the farming world are people that are deeply committed, they are generational. But it is super high stress. And you have the unusual weight of generations on your shoulders. It also has a high rate of failure.”

SATTGAST: The 2nd District lawmaker has proposed a bill that may be the first of its kind anywhere – a measure that would convene a state task force on behavioral health and suicide prevention in the ag. industry. It would also establish a pilot program in two farming counties to provide free counseling and suicide prevention resources. Wilcox says it’s about helping farmers and farm workers cope with the stresses of a hard life.

WILCOX: “They are people that perhaps have a tradition of not asking for a lot of help.”

SATTGAST: Wilcox says it’s time to offer that help. The measure has passed two House committees and is now awaiting a vote on the House floor. John Sattgast, Olympia.