University researchers have launched a new study into the reasons behind the high rates of suicide among farmers in Qld and NSW.

Australian farmers are twice as likely to take their own lives than the general population, and university researchers want to know why.

The reasons behind the high rates of suicide among farmers are the focus of a new joint investigation being conducted at Griffith University and the University of Newcastle.

Researchers want to speak to farmers in Queensland and NSW about the stresses they face, as well as relatives of rural men and women who have taken their lives.

“We have to look into farmers’ lives from a wider perspective, go beyond mental illness, and examine the environment and other stresses, which would help us to design interventions targeting needs of farmers and their communities,” Dr Kairi Kolves from Griffith’s Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention said.

Stacey Milner from AgForce said it had historically been very difficult to obtain concrete data on the number of farmers who are experiencing depression or taking their own lives, and the reasons behind this desperate decision.

However she said anecdotal evidence was that the current drought, which now covers around 75 per cent of the state, is causing farmers an “immense amount of pressure”.

“They’re under financial pressure, and they’re under the psychological pressure of just looking out at their property and seeing it so brown and dry, and worrying about how they will take care of their animals,” she said.

Ms Milner said the limited access to quality mental health services in the country was a barrier, and that farmers, particularly men, were often reluctant to seek help.

“There’s no doubt that rural men very much like to deal with things themselves,” she said.

However Dr Kolves said this common assumption may not be entirely accurate.

She said a preliminary study of Queensland Suicide Register (QSR) data revealed around 40 per cent of Queensland farmers who died by suicide between 1990 and 2008 had some form of contact with a mental health professional three months before death.

“It appears that a substantial proportion of farmers are seeking help for mental health problems prior to death by suicide, which challenges the common assumption that farmers are unlikely to seek help,” Dr Kolves said.

Farmers and families wishing to participate in the study can contact Lisa Kunde on 07 3735 1144.

*Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467