Suicide and accidental death in Australia’s rural farming communities: a review of the literature
Citation: Kennedy AJ, Maple MJ, McKay K, Brumby SA. Suicide and accidental death in Australia’s rural farming communities: a review of the literature. Rural and Remote Health (Internet) 2014; 14: 2517. Available: http://www.rrh.org.au/articles/subviewnew.asp?ArticleID=2517 (Accessed 29 May 2017)
Introduction: Australia’s farmers constitute a heterogeneous group within the rural population. This literature review incorporates four broad areas: an understanding of farming communities, families and individuals and the contexts in which they live and work; an exploration of the challenges to morbidity and mortality that these communities face; a description of the patterns of suicide and accidental death in farming communities; and an outline of what is missing from the current body of research. Recommendations will be made on how these gaps may be addressed.Key words: accident, Australia, death, farming, review article, rural communities, suicide.
Methods: In developing this comprehensive literature review, a snowballing and saturation approach was adopted. Initial search terms included suicid*, farm*, accident*, fatal*, death, sudden death, rural OR remote, Australia and NOT Australia. Databases searched included SCOPUS, PubMed, Proquest and SafetyLit; research from 1995 onwards was examined for relevance. Earlier seminal texts were also included. Reference lists of retrieved articles were searched and citations explored for further relevant research material. The primary focus was on Australian peer-reviewed research with supplementary grey literature. International material was used as examples.
Results: The literature variously describes farmers as members of both rural farming communities and farming families, and as individuals within an occupational classification. Within each of these classifications, there is evidence of the cumulative impact of a multiplicity of social, geographical and psychological factors relating to work, living and social arrangements that impact the health and wellbeing of Australia’s farmers and their families, particularly accidental death and suicide. Research consistently demonstrates traumatic death to be at a greater rate than in the general Australian population, with reductions found more recently in some modes of farming-related accidental death. Patterns of accidental death and suicide are commonly linked to the changing shape of contemporary farming. Suicide rates are also frequently described in relation to lethality and accessibility of means. The limitations of suicide and accidental death data are considerable.
Conclusion: While there is consistent reporting of heightened levels of risk for suicide and accidental death in farming communities the limitations of the research remain significant. There are substantial gaps in current knowledge, and the body of research to date lacks clarity, inclusiveness and contextual specificity. Absent from the literature is any investigation of the impact of these frequently preventable deaths on the families and communities in which they occur. Recommendations for future research are suggested.
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