Dr. Corinne Peek-Asa

Dr. Corinne Peek-Asa

(Iowa City) -- A University of Iowa professor who’s done extensive research on farmer suicide is applauding proposed new legislation in Congress to address the worsening issue.

Corinne Peek-Asa, a U-I professor of occupational and environmental health, says she and her team studied a wealth of federal data and found suicide rates were 45-percent higher for people in rural areas, and farmers stood out as having even higher rates compared to the general population.

“We looked at specifically Midwestern states and we found that between 1992 and 2010, some 230 farmers died from suicide,” Peek-Asa says. “When we look overall at the workforce and at work-related suicides, we see that’s three times the national average.”

Unlike someone who works in a bank, Peek-Asa says a farmer’s work is much more closely tied to their lives, making it harder to put stress away or to keep one’s work and personal lives separate.

Peek-Asa says, “When we look at those circumstances in Iowa farmers, we do see that things like financial stress, personal isolation, symptoms of feeling anxious and depressed are things that we see in the review of cases of farmer suicides.”

One of the biggest challenges in suicide prevention, she says, is the stigma of talking about the topic, worries about seeking mental health care in general, and the availablity of such care in rural areas.

“One of the pieces the legislation has written into it is a public campaign to talk about this issue, to bring it more into the light and to try to reduce the barriers to recognizing that it is okay, that there are stresses associated with farming,” Peek-Asa says. “I think that’s a very important component of the bill.”

Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley is one of the two primary co-sponsors of the bill, called of the Seeding Rural Resilience Act. A news release from Grassley’s office says the legislation aims to curb the rising rate of farmer suicides through a stress management training program.