SIDNEY — The stresses on people involved in agribusiness — such as farmers — continues to grow each year. And those stresses are what Shelby County Sheriff John Lenhart is tackling in his weekly interview.
“I was in the ag office (OSU Extension) last week and there was a USDA brochure “Suicide Prevention Lifeline” there,” he said. The brochure deals with the growing number of suicides of farmers across the nation and what to do to help prevent a suicide.
“I attended a National Sheriff’s Association meeting last week and I talked with sheriffs about suicides and bankruptcies among farmers,” he said.
Suicide statistics, said Lenhart, doesn’t include the occupation of the person who died. In 2019, he said, Shelby County had two suicides while there were 1,700 suicides in Ohio. Nationwide, there were 47,000 suicides in 2019.
Suicides among farmers and ranchers, he said, is “five times higher than the national average. And that’s double the rate of suicides among military members.”
The suicide rate today among farmers is 50 percent higher than it was during the 1980s when farmers were faced with many economic challenges, he said.
“Bankruptcy is 22 percent higher today than in the 1980s among farmers,,” said Lenhart. “One out of three farmers have financial problems.
“Agribusiness has dramatically changed over the years,” he said. “The next generation of farmers are leaving the farm and not returning. Locally, we have dairy farmers who can no longer afford to milk their cows so they quit milking.”
Lenhart said two of the largest purchasers of milk — Borden’s and Dean’s Foods — have both filed for bankruptcy, which is affecting local farmers.
“There’s no outlet for the milk,” he said. “Prices are not good for them.”
The 2019 income for farmers, said Lenhart, is in the bottom 25 percent of all career choices. And the income has been in the bottom 25 percent for 90 years.
“The taxpayers and President Trump are paying $28 billion to help the farmers,” said Lenhart.
The sheriff said the economic hardships suffered by Shelby County farmers is sometimes hard to see.
“We’re in an industrial area, so they can provide jobs for farmers,” said Lenhart. “When you gt to an area that’s totally agriculture, then you can see the hardships. We do see a 12 percent bankruptcy filing in our county.
“We have farmers who are involved with multi-generational farms. they liked farming with their parents. They love the life. They want their children to follow them.
“But when they have to file bankruptcy, they feel like they’ve left everyone down,” he said. “They have little or no hope left. Farmers are tough people. Now they have to worry about whether they can get their crops our and then they worry if they’ll have anyone to sell the crops to.”
Lenhart said there are warning signs if a person is thinking about suicide. Warning signs of a person contemplating suicide include the person:
• Talks about wanting to die.
• Looks for a way to kill themselves, such as buying a gun or another gun if they already own one.
• Says they have a feeling of hopelessness.
• Feels trapped.
• Is in unbelievable pain.
• Feels they are a burden to others.
• Increases their use of alcohol or drugs.
• Feels anxious all the time.
• Doesn’t sleep or sleeps for long periods of time.
• Is withdrawn from their family and friends.
• Sometimes rages at other people or is seeking revenge against someone.
• Has extreme mood swings.
“My granddad lost the family farm in 1934 in the Great Depression,” said Lenhart. “That was a big deal. I remember my family talking about it.
“All discussions take place around the kitchen table,” he said. “Talk about the issues that are going on.”
He said family members and close friends of a person who is showing suicide warning signs should speak our and give as much help as they can to the person. The person who is thinking about suicide should talk to their friends, a priest or pastor or call a mental health hotline.
“I was once told by an older sheriff that ‘Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem,’” said Lenhart, who agreed with the sentiment.
When researching the subject, Lenhart used information from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Ohio Farm Bureau, the National Farmers Union and Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Sidney Daily News conducts a weekly interview to update readers with news from the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, 555 Gearhart Road, Sidney.