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Suicide In Idaho

A writer who's main beat is as staff writer and music critic for The Inlander, a free weekly newspaper based in Spokane, Washington, wrote a story entitled "The lonely life of the farmer too often leads to suicide" for Al Jazeera America.


She tells a story of a late middle aged farmer who was sometimes conflicted.  He enjoyed people and company and sometimes some whiskey and branch water.  


"Two weeks before his 50th birthday, just after 4 a.m. on July 19, 2005, Jim's wife found him sitting in the field behind their house, gasping for his last breaths after putting a pistol to his head.

Stunned, his family grasped for an answer.

Jim's story is one heard too often in the Gem State. Idaho consistently ranks as one of the states with the highest suicide rates from year to year. In 2010, it ranked sixth, with 18.5 suicides per 100,000 people (PDF), and in 2011, 285 people died by suicide there. Suicide is estimated to cost the state $36 million annually.

Every year, Idaho, New Mexico, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Nevada, among others, seem to leapfrog one another in the top 10 as the most suicidal. They're giant states — ones with more fields and long stretches of freeway than urban centers, places with populations of cows that rival those of people. Idaho is where Ernest Hemingway made his home and where he died by suicide in 1961.

And in a place like Idaho, one that relies heavily on rural people and a thriving agribusiness to contribute to its economy, the suicide rate of farmers remains a concern. In a report on suicide prevention in Idaho (PDF) from the state's Department of Health and Welfare, researchers said a lack of social and mental-health support — in addition to the unique stresses of farming — and access to lethal means puts people like farmers at a high risk for suicide."


People cited in the story wish farmers would ask for help and wish they didn't have guns.  They try to figure out how to enable the lonely, rugged individual to seek and accept help when life is overwhelming.


What I find interesting is that a music critic who writes in Al Jazeera is the one penning this story.  What does that say about us farmers who would rather not discuss the stress of life and what does it say about American media?


Al Jazeera is strongly funded by the government of Qatar, which some critics claim controls or strongly influences it's content.


Al Jazeera America has hired a number of experienced and known American journalists and uses some world-wide content from Al Jazeera, which is developing a reputation as a credible competitor to BBC, CNN and other world wide news organizations.  The implication is that Al Jazeera America will have an increasingly vocal presence in the U.S. and stories like this may be one way to define it.  A sometimes alternative, sometimes main stream medea that may tackle stories and treatments the established medea avoid.  It is ironic that farmer suicide, which has been covered during tough farm times, is now being aired in a venue that one would not think most farmers would turn to.



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21 Replies

Re: Suicide In Idaho

I generally find Al Jazeera to be a fairly objective news source, definitely more so than the US networks that make no secret of their partisan leanings such as MSNBC or Fox.


I'm not sure what the problem is here unless it is the suggestion that it has something to do with guns. Probably does to some degree in terms of  sheer handiness and efficiency but as far as farmers go we tend to be a fairly handy lot so there would always be an old hay rope around or something should someone feel that desperate.


Other than hoping that there are resources for families who might suspect serious problems I don't know what is to be said. Most farms have enough firepower around to do that job even if it is an old .22 used for groundhogs or putting stock down and I don't think that's going to change. Nor do I think anybody's coming to take them away.


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Senior Advisor

Re: Suicide In Idaho

I heard the other day on one of the shows that a personal fire arm owned by a family is 3 times as likely to be used on a family member as a home intruder. It also stated the number of gun related injuries in the united states


I believe it was over 100 k injuries but don't quote me on that.


Sometimes farmers get circumstances which are unbearable to cope with. Perhaps pride and embarrassment get in the way. Anyway our small community population 270 plus the rural has had 4 suicides in the last decade. That farmers and neighbors with whom I was acquainted and reasonably close friends. They probably weren't all farm or financial related. Perhaps health issues or mental health issues was a factor.

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Honored Advisor

Re: Suicide In Idaho

Not sure I really want to read that one right now, given the depth of sadness we have had in this household for the past 16 months.

My husband's family is fraught with a history of suicide...two of his paternal uncles killed themselves, and at least two more had severe problems with depression or other mental health problems, as did some of their many sisters. I have consequently always had the idea in the back of my head that i have to be vigilant about mood problems in our household.

It is entirely possible that the " real" reason for s suicide may never be known in ma cases. ike had always been told one of his uncles killed himself due to a painful and untreatable illness. Only last year did his BIL let us in on the fact that the old guy had multiple mistresses, and the jig was up. I had heard the reason for the other uncle's choice, but never this one, so it may not have been widely known.

My point is that sometimes, the tendency towards suicide seems to be genetic, or at least cultural. That may or may not help explain clusters in certain regions.

Rural life is isolating and can be brutal. That takes a toll on the psyche.

Then again, if you believe, as I do, that this life is only one of many lifetimes - not all of them in this dimension - then moving on to the next one, is not as drastic as it first appears. Crossing oneself over is something that many cultures accept as an act of honor, at least under certain circumstances...possible they could be right?

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Senior Advisor

Re: Suicide In Idaho

I really don't like to talk about this subject on here - but think I will post my cent and a half on this - heres two stories from here in the Morristown area .


Back around 30 years or so a good friend - son of a very good farmer here - had been sick  - they would find out that Mark had a brain tumor - remember here - 30 years ago - medicine may not have been as good --- anyway - they operated on it and had to put a tube in his head down to his gut - to drain fluid - after time it made him sick at his stomach - they had to move the tube many times - one spring - ( planting time ) I talked to Mark early one morning at the gas station - we talked farming - like always - then I asked him howhe was doing ? his eyes lit up and said - they want to operate on him again - He looked me in the eye and said -- Ken that not going to happen ! I said Mark - it will make you feel better - you need to do this - his reply - was i have had enough - I not doing this any more - Later that day - Nobody had seen Mark all day - Well they found him that evening in a garage - he had gassed himself . I was just sick over this-  Mak was 2 years younger than me and my cousins best friend . My question wasKen - you dumbazz ! The signs were there  - I should hve picked up on this - Could I have helped in some way ? - Will never know .


2.  New neighbor bought the place right next door - as a city guy - was a lot different - Was a total loaner , But overtime and my BSing with him - he was all right guy - but the Dobie sure didn't like him - anyway - he was in DEEP money trouble on his house and would ask me what to do - I gave him - what I thought was good advise on this , but he did not ant to work with the bank - he has told me on his many guns he had and nobody -but nobody would take his home - The law come out and would serve him papers - for over a year - they even cut the juice off - One day they came to move him out - But what they found was Robert dead in his truck - BlackHawk 357 did its job -- why ? Over a house ?

I had a barn ( shop ) right next to his place , I had found tracks leading from his place to the barn - and I followed them in to the barn - I found a gift from Robert sitting on the work bench with a note - I was spooked over that deal -


Robert and told me time and gain - nobody would take his place - I was more worried about the law getting hurt and had talked to the Deputies on this - But then again - the signs were there and I missed them again .


I will be honest here - I am very gun shy about this subject - I have not met any of the [A] crew here but have worried about some on here - Kay you are one - I read your deep sadness in your you posts and that worries me - You had a great loss and I'm so sorry !


Even Jims above post bothers me -  Is Jim asking for help ? I don't think so but from past experience's - I don't ever what to see this happen again - I don't want to miss the sign .


Ask Krafty - its a sick feeling - Could I have done something ?  Will never know .

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Re: Suicide In Idaho

What an interesting set of responses.  My original motivation was that we had a new, openly foreign government controlled media come in and one of the stories they did, by a song critic, was on rural suicide.  Why?  It was a bigger problem in the '70s and a decade or so ago, but it doesn't seem to be a big problem now.  What was this article trying to tell the rest of the U.S. about farm life using the example of one guy who was a sometime drinker and got in over his head financially.


Some responses said that Al Jazeera was as or more credible than a number of U.S. and world media.  No argument with that.  Saying Jesse James was no worse than Billy The Kid is perhaps a true statement.  Does it say Jesse James was a good guy?  Jesse James was a train robber and murderer, myths and legends aside.  Saying Al Jazeera is as good as CNN is no complimentn to either.


Others are touched by pesonal experiences relating to suicide.  I've heard people reail against the dead person, angry at what they had left behind.  Angry at whom for what?  We've had people go on suicide missions in war and praised them.  We have cultures, such as Japan, where suicide has been an honored way to address problems.  What does this say about the person with an incurable, painful disease?  We will allow a fatal dose of morphine as long as it is not to kill the person but to ease the pain, when everyone knows what the result will be.  Aren't we being a little two-faced that we won't let a man blow his brains out but will let him pay thousands of dollars to some nurse to give him an overdose?


It seems to me that the suicide is at pease but the living are the ones left with the guilt, the self-doubt, the questioning.   My wife's uncle by marriage killed himself because he had cancer.  An acqaintence shot himself when he was diagnosed with incurable cancer.  A guy down the road and his wife, both terminally ill, took a bottle of wine and some music and sat in the car in the garage.  Their daughter expressed anger.  It baffles me.


Well, it goes to show yo unever know what will be there when you turn over a rock.  My objective was to air the idea that a foreign controlled media outlet was portraying U.S. farmers in a particular light to a non-rural audience.  As long as the rock has been overturned, have at it.  Do you believe in assisted suicide for the terminally ill?  If your aunt's husband was diagnosed with Alheimers, they were poor, the aunt was feeble, and he killed himself, would you complain about the aunt not seeing signs?  About society not parking him in some room for 5-10 years?


Plenty of gristle on this bone, chew on it.

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Honored Advisor

Re: Suicide In Idaho

Well, first of all, I appreciate the concerns expressed for me and my family...yes, it will be sixteen months tomorrow, and this is one of the few places where I can express my sadness. I thank you all for bearing with me as I do. When everyone you love is as broken hearted as you are, you don't say it all out loud at home. This is about the only other outlet I have, most days.

Second, the word " media" strikes me in this discussion as plural of " medium". Again, please bear with me, as this is admittedly an off-the-wall tangent, for sure. If I were to choose the most common means of attempting to reach across the divide between this life and what comes next, it would be via psychic medium. I haven't felt that need, as - quite honestly here - my daughter has managed to send us messages in many ways.

It has not failed...when my grieving heart hangs up on a question about my child...someone will show up out of the blue, even a total steanger to me who knew her, and give me the answer, unsolicited by me. These incidents are too random to be coincidental. The information they impart is too pointed to be open to much interpretation, except as direct replies to the question I am hung up on at that given time. I have written all of these down, and if I look back, they are clear insights.

Every one of us has observed my tiny grandson waving, smiling, cooing and kissing at someone whom none of us can see. Her energy has shown up in photographs. This is so obvious, it cannot be ignored. If it sounds nuts to you, that's okay...we who know her and love her know what we know. ( I just changed " knew" and "loved" to the present tense in that sentence.)

What difference, really, is it to have a medium convey a message from beyond, than it is to rely upon a reporter, photographer, and their editors, in whatever medium that we conglomerate as "The Media"? They convey some portion of what they see and hear, and filter it through their own sentiments, prejudices, and the policy stance of whoever writes their paycheck.

It all, in the final analysis, relies on our faith in the veracity of the speech or scene they choose to relate to us.

There is a growing body of empirical proof of a mind that can and does survive the death of the body. If a person decides that this incarnation has too much strife, in the form of physical or emotional pain, left in it for a soul to see it as worthwhile to stay on this side, who of any of us is appointed to judge?

The idea that we cannot ask for and thus receive absolution for this "sin", that our remains won't receive the same degree of respect, is a Medieval mindset to me. If that offends anyone's religious convictions, please forgive me for expressing mine....

The anger: Is it because survivors think their love wasn't enough to hold someone here? Possibly so, but possibly not. Believe me, even when it's not on purpose, being left behind is a bitch....

Anger is a part of the well- documented grieving process...Kubler- Ross outlined it decades ago. In the event of a suicide, the emotional steps come in a rush, and all at once. In a natural death, they play out over a longer period of time, as a rule. Maybe the anger just hasn't had time to dissipate in the immediate emergency of a suicidal success.

We rarely discuss failed suicides anymore, do we? How many accidents aren't accidental?

Some suicides do pointedly perform their final act in such a manner as to provide a horrible discovery. I have within my extended family a story of a very high-profile, public suicide that was a statement of frustration with the end of mental health coverage in her husband's health insurance plan. Whenever I drive north to Richmond, I always say " Hello, Amy!", when I drive by that extremely high overpass of an extremely shallow creek.... She sure showed them...

Others are more discreet. It is a fallacy that when a person telegraphs suicidal thoughts, they won't really do fact, most of them apparently do. As said here, we often only recognize the signs in retrospect. Leaving a gift behind, as described, is a sacred act, to me...saying that the recipient made every reasonable effort to be kind.

This is such an emotional subject. My first thought, which I did not post, was that if that farmer in Idaho coukd have just held on for another couple of years, his tide might have turned. We have all heard suicide described as " a permanent solution to a temporary problem".

Will stop here...the thoughts and feelings are coming too fast to make sense, and I have a house to clean.
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Senior Contributor

Re: Suicide In Idaho

All I can say is silence. Lots to think about what Jim, NCIN, Kay have put up for the world to read and think about. I think I shall re-read all the replys again. Deep feelings expressed for sure. Special Thanks to all

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Re: Suicide In Idaho

Whether it is absolutely true or not the saying always was that the second thing that the governments of Plains states did, after establishing a state university was to build a state mental hospital and that the largest portion of people committed were women.


Even though life is a heckuva lot easier today than it was for homesteaders, the isolation is still tough on some people.


I'm still not really getting how this is somehow an assault on agriculture by a foreign news bureau.

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BA Deere
Honored Advisor

Re: Suicide In Idaho

I don`t know if the author was sophisticated enough to wite an intentional hit piece on American farmers(being suicidal due to the "Zionist" run imperialistic US gov`t)  but `Aljiz` is a mouthpiece for the "Islamic" run Qutar gov`t.


Up until the 70`s rural and urban suicides were running about neck and neck  The changes that have occured in the last 30 years have been breathtaking.  For each 10,000 acre farmer you see now there was 25 farmers back then.  Not to mention all the farm supply, small town grociery stores and support businesses that went away along with the changes.  Some people don`t handle "change" very well never have, never will.  I don`t like "change" either but thankfully I can adapt, if forced.


Just imagine a guy in a small town that used to own his own hardware store that was in his family for generations, now he has to work at a Wallyworld stocking shelves. It`d be tough.

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