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Australia drought sparks suicides

10/19/06

Australia

Australia's severe drought has led to an alarming rise in the number of suicides among farmers.

Australia Farm

One farmer takes his life every four days, according to the national mental health body Beyond Blue.

The group has called for psychologists to tour agricultural areas to combat anxiety, stress and depression.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister John Howard tried to address the growing problem of rural poverty by announcing a $263m aid package for farmers.

With the drought now in its sixth year, Australia's big dry is the worst in over a century.

Farmers have been hardest hit, forced to make a living sometimes in dustbowl conditions, raising emaciated cattle.

With no prospect of significant rainfall before the New Year, the situation has reached crisis point and hope is as scarce as rainfall.

Many farmers are being forced to sell up, leaving land which often their families have worked on for generations.

Tough reputation

The suicide rate among farmers is already twice the national average.

Now, Beyond Blue has produced new figures showing that one farmer commits suicide in the country every four days.

It also estimates that more than 300,000 rural Australians experience depression each year, but only a small number seek help.

Australian farmers have long been known for their toughness and resilience, the very qualities which make them more reluctant to acknowledge any psychological problems.

Loneliness, family breakdown and alcohol abuse are all common in rural communities.

But given their geographic isolation, there is very limited access to counselling and help.

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