Researchers study behavioural aspect of farmer suicides

One of the major causes behind suicidal intent is depression, experts find while studying cases in Punjab, Telangana and Maharashtra

By Rajeev Khanna
Published: Thursday 03 October 2019

Farmer suicides, which have till now been studied economically and agriculturally, are now being looked at from behavioural and psychological angles. A study is being conducted under the National Agricultural Science Fund of Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) in three states — Punjab, Telangana and Maharashtra.

Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), Ludhiana is the anchor for Addressing Farmers’ Suicide issue through Capacity Building of Farming Families. “Till now the issue of farmer suicide was being looked at only from economic and agricultural angles. We have looked at it from behavioural, psychological and cultural perspectives in addition to the earlier two,” said Sarabjeet Singh of PAU.

The research is also being carried out by PJ Telangana State Agricultural University, Hyderabad; Marathwada Agricultural University, Parbhani and Punjabi University in Patiala. The findings of the three year study are expected to be compiled in the next few weeks.

The findings of the three-year study are expected to be compiled in the next few weeks.

Since most discussions and parleys on suicides are overtaken by issues of crop failures, rising debts, new farming techniques, the psychological aspect is largely ignored, added Singh.

One of the major causes behind suicidal intent is depression, found the researchers. “It needs to be understood that at times a farmer under a debt of Rs 2 lakh shows a tendency to end his life, while another under a debt of Rs 10 lakh does not,” he added.

They roped in psychologists and counsellors in the study. “Peer support volunteers (PSV) conduct open-ended interviews with farmers and then send audio recordings to us for analysis. We do this using standardised tools,” said Harpreet Kaur of Punjabi University.

The PSVs have been trained through 10 modules on issues including battling depressive ruminations, suicidal ideations, negative cognitions, hopelessness, helplessness, recognising and managing stressors like financial distress, relationship problems, and enhancing psychological resources through emotional well being, and mindfulness.

The PAU developed a '7D' model of triggering and confounding factors and a '7R' model of preventive and protecting factors to deal with the problem of farmer suicides. The '7D' model encapsulates drugs, debt, disease, disputes, depression, disrepute and death.

The '7R' model looks at prevention of suicides. It consists: remunerative agriculture, resilience building, rational expenditure, reassurance through connectivity, righteous conduct, religious support and responsible reporting.

In suicide-prone states, agricultural institutes and scientists should start distributing seeds of resilience, tolerance and contentment among farmers, suggested researchers. Along with subsidies, increased farm profits, the focus should also be on resilience building and problem solving skills of farming families, they added.

Experts underlined that farmers don’t need money only, they need motivation too. Agricultural universities can play a powerful role in dissipating the culture of shame associated with mental illness and depression as it is the fear of stigma that acts as a barrier to seek appropriate treatment, they suggested.

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