A stress index may prevent farmer suicide in India: Here's how it'll help

Is financial stress the only reason why farmers commit suicide in India? What are the psychological and behavioural aspects behind farmer suicides?

To address some of the issues, the Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) has teamed up with its counterparts in Telangana and Maharashtra, and also the psychology department of the Punjabi University at Patiala, under which experts would be creating a stress index and psychological resource index (PRI) of farmers.

According to The Indian Express, PAU will create a “stress index” (SI) for farmers and prepare a training module for village-level volunteers to counsel those on the verge of committing suicide.

According to a Lancet study, the overwhelming cause of suicide is mental stress, not financial stress. But the underlying mental issues cannot be cured by loan waivers and subsidies.

The study also states that most Indians do not have community or support services for the prevention of suicide. The Indian Council of Agricultural Research has released Rs 1.35 crore for the project.

How will stress index work?

Step 1 - Survey will be conducted on 1,000 'vulnerable' farmer households

Step 2. The data collected from these farmers will be used to measure their stress levels and whether they are mentally strong enough to handle it.

Step 3. Distressed farmers would typically exhibit high SI and low PSI ,a measure of their mental strength and resilience to cope up with stress.

Step 4. Around 200 'peer support volunteers (PSVs)' in Punjab and 100 each in Telangana and Maharashtra will identify distressed farmers within their areas and provide about six months of counselling to prevent them from taking any extreme steps.

The statistical testing tools for the creation of SI and a “psychological resource index” (PSI) of farmers have already been finalised, Harprit Kaur, head of Punjabi University’s psychology department told The Indian Express.

What will the survey contain?

The survey will consist of a General Health Questionnaire, the Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale, the Cognitive Distortions Scale, the Beck Depression Inventory-II, the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale, the Suicidal Behaviours Questionnaire, the Modified Scale for Suicidal Ideation, and the Friedman Well-Being Scale

The PAU-led team is supposed to submit its study report by September 2019.

The PSVs would basically be educated by rural youth, trained to listen to farmers and encourage them to follow a “positive path” focussing on a simple lifestyle and shunning pomp and show in marriages, etc, said Singh, the principal investigator for the project.

Farmer suicides in India

Crop failure, drought, floods and indebtedness are the most frequently cited factors in the suicides of Indian farmers – about 300,000 in the past 20 years, according to government figures.

Farmer suicides in India rose to 8,007 in 2015 from 5,650 the previous year – an increase of 41.7 per cent, according to data released by the National Crime Records Bureau this year.

Maharashtra accounted for the highest number of farmer suicides among Indian states last year – with 4,291 cases – compared to 1,569 in Karnataka, and 1,290 in Madhya Pradesh.

Maharashtra also suffered severe drought in 2014 and 2015, although the impact was only felt in the first half of 2016.

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