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Rancher opens up about battle with depression in hopes of preventing suicides

Farmers have some of the highest rates of suicide
Posted: 4:10 PM, Jul 20, 2018
Updated: 2018-07-20 17:10:32-04

Farmers have some of the highest rates of suicide of any profession.             

Extreme dry weather this year, combined with fears of tariffs, are creating more stress than ever for the nation's food producers.                    

The NOW spoke with one farmer about her struggle and what's being done to help.

Rancher Laura Negley says she is more at home on the plains of eastern Colorado than anywhere else in the world. She developed a love for animals as a kid while growing up on her family’s farm.

That love led her to become a veterinarian.

"My husband and son primarily do the cropping and so forth and I do the livestock," says Negley.

After Negley and her husband got married, they started working on her husband’s family farm, tending to the herds, while also growing row crops of wheat. She had no illusions about how tough the lifestyle was, but still, she never thought the weather would give them this much financial heartache.

"When it really got stressful and difficult for us was probably at the end of the 90s.

“We are truly subject to the whims of mother nature.  And mother nature got very fickle.”

The problem? Drought.

Since the 2000s, they’ve had more dry years than normal ones, including this year.

So, what happens to the crops and cattle when there’s not enough rain?

"Um, you don't get any. I mean, they just don't grow,” Negley says. “You end up with crop failure, lack of forage, having to cut back on cattle numbers.."

With the drought can come fires. A wildfire destroyed 700 acres, costing them an estimated $20,000.

In one particular stretch of bad luck, they brought in zero income--two years in a row.

“Then one day, I just,” says Negley, pausing briefly as she became emotional. “I don't know how to describe it. I just basically went into myself and I just said, ‘I really can’t deal with this anymore.’

“It was hard for me to even leave the house. It was really hard. About six months, it was just not a good place to be.”

She admits there were days when she wished she wouldn't wake up the next morning. But suicide was not an option; for her family's sake, she says.

"I just thought, ‘No, I can’t go down that road.’"

Sadly, that's not the conclusion other farmers reach.  A University of Iowa study found that the suicide rate among farmers is two to three times as high as the national average.

The problem has gotten so bad that some call centers, like Colorado Crisis Services, have used it as a wake-up call and have started training counselors to better understand the struggles of the modern farmer.

As for Negley, faith played a big part in helping her find a better place. But more so, it was her family who noticed changes in her behavior and eventually convinced her to see a counselor.

Now, she tells her story to help others.