In memory of Dick Tyler, wheat farmer, Big Sandy
Voice of Darla Tyler-McSherry, daughter
My 82-year-old father committed suicide in September 2016.
We believe it was due to health issues which created the perfect storm of circumstances.
Dad had an eye disease that he had dealt with pretty well for a while, but it got to the point that he was not able to be outside farming. My brother, who worked on the farm with him, kept dad updated on the planting, harvesting and other farm-related activities. We speculate that the message running through my dad’s head for the year he was unable to farm was, “I can’t be out there. What good am I?”
We were so close to that situation that we didn’t see it. We didn’t have the luxury of a 30,000-foot view. We ran out of time and we didn’t even know the clock was ticking.
Depression and suicide in farming and ranching is multi-layered. First, there are the economic challenges of making ends meet. Ag is so dependent on things you can’t control like the weather or markets. Secondly, it’s a cultural challenge to ask for help. If you ask for help, it means you’re weak. “Grandma eked out a living during the Depression, why can’t I?” people think. There is a lot of pressure to continue a farm or ranch and a lot of expectations.
In addition, there is social isolation. A lot of counties have lost population. You see many old farmsteads disintegrating and there is less than one person per square mile in 10 Montana counties. There are not many folks to connect to, especially when you need help. Another factor is farming and ranching is a thankless job. Nobody thanks you for what you do, yet as a farmer or rancher you keep everyone alive with good food and materials.
Losing your identity is a huge area of stress for many farmers and ranchers. There are many ways to lose your identity in farming and ranching including financial failure, poor health and strained relationships. I want to tell people that you are so much more than what you do. If you don’t seed another acre, you are still a special, important person.
One evening following my father’s suicide, I was talking on the phone with one of Dad’s friends. In this call, he said, “When your dad would see someone in town walking down the street, he would stop and ask in earnest how they were doing. He wasn’t asking to be nosy or gossipy, he genuinely cared how they and their family were doing.”
It is one of the most beautiful things anyone has said to me about my dad since his death. The single most important concept I want to share with others is just that: ask in earnest and listen to help prevent suicide in farming. That’s what encouraged me to start my non-profit organization, Ask In Earnest, which is geared to suicide prevention especially in farm and ranch families.
I want to teach others how to prevent suicide and provide strategies for people to deal with someone who is depressed and potentially suicidal. Two-thirds of suicides are by guns. I am not advocating gun control here, but if you are worried about someone committing suicide, have an honest conversation about putting the guns away for a little while. It helps if you can have a mental health professional involved with this conversation.
There are more and more telehealth options online which could be helpful in rural areas. Going to town to see a therapist could take at least a half day. Telehealth program can potentially help people who need it. I have to admit, I can’t ever imagine my dad saying he needed to talk to a mental health professional.
Two years after my dad committed suicide, I lost my husband. I wished my dad had been there to help me deal with that death. Ask In Earnest gave me the impetus to get out of bed and channel my grief to try to save another farm family from tragedy.
I’m hoping that after someone looks at Ask In Earnest it might spark a conversation, it might have someone say, “I need help.”
Visit www.askinearnest.org to learn more about suicide prevention.
Want more news on this topic? Montana Farm Bureau members may subscribe for a free email news service, featuring the farm and rural topics that interest them most!