Farmers in the UK have an elevated risk of suicide. It has been suggested that this may be related to their ease of access to dangerous means for suicidal behaviour. The extent to which farmers use these means and changes in their use may be relevant to suicide prevention.
Data on 719 deaths in farmers of both genders in England and Wales between 1981 and 1993 in which a verdict of suicide or undetermined cause (open verdict) was recorded were analysed.
Of 702 deaths in male farmers, farms were involved in 40.0%, hanging in 29.6%, carbon monoxide in 16.4%, poisoning in 8.0% (over half of which involved agricultural or horticultural poisons) and other methods in 6.1%. There was a considerable excess of deaths due to firearms compared with the distribution of methods of suicide and open verdict deaths in males in the general population. Hanging was also somewhat more frequent. During the study period there was a reduction in firearm death rates, particularly after 1989 when there was national legislation on firearm ownership, registration and storage. There were also fewer farming suicides after this date. By the end of the study period hanging was more frequent than deaths involving firearms.
Farmers who commit suicide tend to use methods to which they have easy access. Restriction of the ready availability of such methods, particularly in farmers known to be depressed or otherwise at risk, might prevent some suicides.
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