Around 60% farmers in Vidarbha region in Maharashtra – one of the regions that has seen the most farmers’ suicides – need help with mental illnesses, says a recent study by the International Institute of Population Science (IIPS). The outputs of the study which had been published in the international journal, Clinical Epidemiology and Global Health, point to the requirement of trained counsellors in rural areas across the country.
As part of the study, the authors, Priyanka Bomble and Hemkhothang, surveyed 300 households in Vidarbha. It has been found that 34.7% of the surveyed farmers suffered from somatic symptoms – a mental illness that leads to neurological issues including body ache. While 55% of farmers complained of anxiety, 7.3% displayed symptoms of social dysfunction and 24.7% had been diagnosed with clinical depression.
However, it is important to note that the cases of anxiety and depression are highest among the farmers who have agricultural loans more than Rs 25,000.
“This study has been conducted taking into account that farmers often suffer from mental issues which don’t get adequately addressed. There are several reasons, such as financial constraints and family issues that may lead to suicide. While mental illnesses may not lead to suicide, but it can contribute to it,” said Bomble. “Through, proper, on-time counselling, the farmers can be provided with better mental strength to fight the odds,” she added.
As per the data from National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), as many as 10,349 farmers and agricultural labourers have killed themselves across the country in 2018. Of this, 34.7% farm related suicides had been reported from Maharashtra. While, 23.2% of total had been reported from Karnataka, 8.8% from Telangana, 6.4% from Andhra Pradesh, etc.
Also read: Farm Suicides: Under-reported Realities of Indian Women Farmers
“With higher educational qualification, people develop a better understanding of handling economic crisis. Additionally, farmers who stay in a joint family setup have a higher capacity to cope with mental illness, owing to emotional and financial support,” said Bomble while commenting on the relation between education and mental illness.
Though the Maharashtra government had earlier identified 14 districts where Accredited Social Health Activists and social workers have been appointed to counsel farmers who are suffering from various mental issues, it had failed to serve its purposes, the study notes.
According to a report in Hindustan Times, as many as 12,700 such personnel were trained under this scheme in 2019. However, 80% of posts for psychiatrists in government-run district hospitals are still lying vacant.
The activists who work along with the farmers say that in several instances of psychological autopsy, it is found that farmers who committed suicide showed signs of depression and anxiety when they were alive. Since mental disorder is considered as a taboo, the government isn’t investing much for such schemes that deal with the mental health issues, say activists.
“If a famous personality claims he/she is suffering from depression, people listen to them. But when poor farmers commit suicide because of the same mental illness, government officials refuse to accept it,” said Ashok Tangade of Jagar Pratishthan, which works in the drought prone Beed district.
Even in the international context, the mental health issues of farmers and agricultural workers are a growing concern. A study by the Farm Safety Foundation says that “84% of farmers under the age of 40 believe that mental health is the biggest danger facing the industry, up from 81% in 2018.” Financial uncertainty and poor working conditions along with others are being sited as the issues that lead to mental health issues.
Also read: Karnataka: Loan Waiver Money Deposited in Farmers’ Accounts Disappeared After LS Polls