Introduction: Farmers and farm workers have higher than expected rates of suicide and undetermined deaths in UK studies, and some rural areas of Scotland have higher than average male suicide rates. Firearm access seems to be an influencing factor in England and Wales. Type of farming, and farming social networks may also be important. This article describes suicide and undetermined deaths in male farmers and farm workers in Scotland from 1981-1999 using anonymised, routine data.
Method: Deaths of men aged 15-74 years from suicide or undetermined cause were identified from anonymised Scottish death records. Farmers and farm workers were identified using occupation codes. Methods of suicide used by farmers were compared with those of the general male population of the same age. A multiple linear regression was used to examine the influence of farm type, and the proportion of farmers in the working population of an area.
Results: 307 male farmers or farm workers died by suicide or undetermined cause in the time period. The overall rate was 31.4/100,000 per year (95% CI 28.1-35.1). Deaths using firearms were over-represented (29% of farming deaths compared with 3.6% in the general male population). There was no significant association between the male suicide rate in an area, and the farming suicide rate. Areas with lower proportions of farmers tended to have higher rates of farming suicide and undetermined deaths. This one factor described 85% of the variance among areas.
Conclusion: Deaths were substantially more likely to involve firearms than suicide and undetermined deaths in the general male population. Less use of other methods did not completely compensate for this, indicating that method availability is likely to contribute to farming suicide rates. Farmers in areas where farming is less common were more likely to die by suicide, and this described most of the differences among areas. Networks and social supports may be important protective factors for farmers.