Objective: The objective of this study was to determine whether farming suicides increased in Victoria during the prolonged drought in south eastern Australia and gain an understanding of Victorian farming suicides during the period.
Method: Intentional self-harm deaths of farmers and primary producers notified to the Victorian State Coroner from 2001 to 2007 were examined to identify characteristics and determine whether the annual number of farming suicides increased.
Results: Farming suicides accounted for just over 3% of Victorian suicides. The total number of farming suicides was 110 for the period and ranged between 11 and 19 deaths per year, rising and falling inconsistently from year to year. Males accounted for nearly 95% of farming suicides, with firearms and hanging the most frequently used methods, and most deaths occurring between 30 and 59 years of age.
Conclusions: The small number of relevant cases and fluctuations in the annual number of deaths provides no evidence of a pattern of increasing farming suicides during the drought years, when there was approximately one suicide every 3 weeks. Given the elevated suicide risk in male farmers and association with multiple psychosocial and environmental factors, it cannot be concluded, however, that suicide risk itself did not increase during this period of heightened uncertainty and stress. Drought should not be dismissed among the many risk factors, and it is possible that increased mental health awareness and community support programs targeting drought-affected areas contributed to improved management of stress and suicide risk in regional and rural Victoria over the past decade.