Drought Increases Suicides For Rural Men, Researchers Say

Tuesday, August 14, 2012
By Paul Martin

By Elizabeth Lopatto
Aug 13, 2012

Men in rural areas may be prone to suicide during times of drought, according to Australian researchers who analyzed almost 40 years of that country’s rainfall records.

In addition to the financial stress of failed crops, environmental degradation caused by extended dry spells also can be psychologically harmful, according to the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Among men ages 30 to 49 who live in farming communities, droughts were associated with a 15 percent increase in the relative risk of suicide, the research found.

Suicide is the 14th most-common cause of death in Australia. In the U.S., it’s the 11th most-common, according to the National Institutes of Health. Identifying periods of risk may aid prevention and help direct resources to areas in need, the authors wrote. Rural communities often have less access to mental-health care than urban ones, said Christian Burgess, director of the Disaster Distress Helpline, in New York.

“With these prolonged disasters, effects can be subtle and accumulate over time,” Burgess said in a telephone interview. He wasn’t involved in the study. “Depression, anxiety and suicide, they’re all at greater risks. A lot of the distress is from economic losses compounded by an already poor economy.”

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