Rep. J.T Wilcox grew up on a South Sound farm and knew all about hard work as a kid. But like many of his fellow Washington state lawmakers the Yelm-area Republican was surprised to learn that suicide rates were highest among workers in farming, fishing and forestry than any other group in the U.S.
Suicide rates in small-town and rural communities are also higher than in suburban and urban zones, according to our state’s 2016 suicide prevention plan. More than a year after Republican Donald Trump won the presidency on a wave of support from rural areas that felt left by economic recovery, it is both smart and right for lawmakers of both parties in Washington state to look closer at the human needs of those in our food-producing regions.
Wilcox’s House Bill 2671 gives the State Office of Rural Health money to create a task force that identifies smart strategies for dealing with suicides in rural areas. Once that is done, the bill authorizes a pilot program in an agriculture-based county in Western Washington.
HB 2671 is still evolving, and Wilcox said he copied sections from a mental health bill sponsored by Democratic Rep. Tina Orwall. He also amended HB 2671 to include farm workers and farmers, and he structured it to address both Spanish and English speakers.
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Wilcox noted that two thirds of gun deaths are suicides. After introducing his measure, Wilcox said he got interesting feedback – some favoring the outreach in a terrain that doesn’t always welcome a helping hand. He said some trolls have assailed it as if he were undermining individualist farmers.
The bill is strongly bipartisan and its $485,000 preliminary cost is affordable. HB 2671 passed the full House on a unanimous vote and the Senate should keep improving it in committee but ultimately pass it.
No doubt, farming is one of the hardest jobs on the planet – subject to very cruel whims of nature. We commend Rep. Wilcox for taking this step.
EDITOR’S NOTE: NOTE: The Crisis Line at the Crisis Clinic of Thurston and Mason Counties may be reached at 360-586-2800. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is at 1-800-273-8255.