Suicide epidemic plagues French farmers

EPA-EFE//GUILLAUME HORCAJUELO

French farmers block a highway next to the city of Arles during a demonstration in southern France.

Suicide epidemic plagues French farmers


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For over a decade,  France has been plagued by a suicide epidemic among French farmers as, according to broadcaster France 24, that one farmer commits suicide every two days, with the majority of cases being recorded in Brittany and the Loire regions.

According to a report, between 2007 and 2009 male French farmers were 22% more likely to commit suicide. Farmers aged between 55-to-64 were 47% more likely than the rest of the population to take their own lives.

Financial debt, intensified physically demanding work, and falling milk prices have been cited as the leading reasons for the high number of suicide attempts, while loneliness is also a significant factor as more children have abandoned family farming businesses.

EU quotas for milk farming, triggering a supply glut that depreciated the value of milk, and economic sanctions on Russia since 2014 that have cut off a robust export market for France have made times lean for French farmers.

France responded to this apparent suicide crisis with a national action plan in 2011, developed by Mutuelle Sociale Agricole that included the establishment of a hotline and special councillors, as well as the participation of local charities.

The campaign’s effectiveness remains an open question, however, as hard figures are hard to come by.

In August 2017, a New York Times report cited volunteers that work with farmers and who said local doctors in farming communities are often reluctant to report a suicide, which leads to insurance companies depriving spouses of compensation on life insurance policies. Moral stigmas and conservative religious beliefs in rural areas have also contributed to the difficulties in collecting hard data.

France’s suicide rate is well above the European average with a rate of 16.7 suicides per 100,000 inhabitants compared to 11.7 per 100,000 across the 28 EU nations (est. 2016). The rate of suicide among men is higher across the EU.

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