The Jolt: Warnings of a suicide spike among farmers in South Georgia

AP file photo, Robert F. Bukaty
AP file photo, Robert F. Bukaty

Credit: Robert F. Bukaty

Credit: Robert F. Bukaty

News doesn't always erupt. Sometimes it quietly pokes its head out, is overlooked, then tugs at a sleeve until someone pays attention.

Over the weekend, the Associated Press reported that a University of Georgia researcher has warned of a potential uptick in suicides within the state’s agriculture community. The lede:

Scientists are learning more about suicides among Georgia farmers — and they say the aftermath of Hurricane Michael could bring more risks to rural areas.

The AP article was a rewrite of a WABE (90.1FM) piece that aired last week, featuring research by Anna Scheyett, dean of the University of Georgia's School of Social Work.

Back in March, Scheyett and her colleagues had published "Characteristics and contextual stressors in farmer and agricultural worker suicides in Georgia from 2008–2015." From the original UGA press release:

The study looked at 106 suicides among farmers and agricultural workers that occurred in Georgia from 2008 to 2015, as reported in the Georgia Violent Death Reporting System.

It found that relationship difficulties and endings, health problems and financial problems were most commonly associated with farmer suicides. Farmers who died by suicide were predominantly white males over 50 years of age – a figure that reflects the demographics of the farming profession in Georgia.

The most common means of death was a gunshot wound (78%). Relationship (25%) and chronic health problems (25%) accounted for half of the 106 deaths. Financial stress came next at 12%.

But Scheyett hints that the above figures might be subject to change. Remember that her statistics stop at 2015. They don’t take into account the devastation caused by Hurricane Michael last year, or the current trade war with China. From the AP rewrite:

Scheyett has also requested additional data from this year, which will help her to study the impact of the hurricane on the farming community.

There's a "perfect storm" of challenges for farmers now, including the economic difficulty in the wake of the hurricane, she said.

"We're talking about a generation where there's going to be huge financial impact . And then the uncertainty around policy and tariffs," she said. "It's an incredibly stressful time for farmers and agriculture workers now."

It took Congress nine months to hammer out an aid package in Michael's aftermath. It could take months more for the money to flow from Washington down to Albany, Ga., and beyond.

Which means that in the months ahead, Scheyett and her colleagues might be in a position to measure some of the human damage caused by that delay, and by President Donald Trump’s tariff-heavy trade policy.


On a related note, over at "Trouble in God's County," Charlie Hayslett poses this question: "Is there a relationship between community prosperity and foreign-born populations?"

Hayslett confesses that he’s not sure what is cause and what is effect, but notes this:

[T]he foreign-born population in Albany, which has the worst Distressed Community Index (DCI) score of any city in Georgia (and one of the worst in the country), was less than three percent of the total population. In contrast, Alpharetta's population is 23.3 percent foreign-born and it posted the best DCI score in the state….

My 12-county Metro Atlanta region, which generates the lion's share of the state's economic output, is home to about 47 percent of the overall population but nearly 72 percent of the foreign-born population.


Our AJC colleague James Salzer has news of a setback for transparency advocates:

A top state court has backed up the Georgia General Assembly's desire to keep its records from the public.

On a 2-1 vote, a Court of Appeals panel decided for the state, essentially saying that documents held by the General Assembly and its offices are not subject to the Open Records Act, which cities, counties and most state agencies are legally bound to follow.

*** reports that the National Republican Congressional Committee recently polled five districts likely to be hotly contested in 2020, and found the impeachment of President Donald Trump to be highly unpopular. Georgia's Sixth District, currently held by U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta, was one of them.


This may be the oddest campaign fundraising pitch we've seen in a while: Seventh District candidate Brenda Lopez Romero sent her supporters a series of screen-shots of TV coverage of the U.S. win over the Netherlands in the Women's World Cup final. "Felicidades," she wrote, above a "Donate" button for her congressional campaign. In a tweet, the Democratic state legislator said she simply got caught up in the moment.

“LOL,” she wrote. “After watching the game, I just sent a Congrats because I was excited we are 4x world champions! I keep the donate button and (blurb) standard on the email.”


Remember Georgia's pitch to create an Amazon-only car on MARTA to win over the company's second headquarters? It failed to win over the tech giant's Seattle bigwigs, but it left an impression with the sleuths at Jeopardy. The game show featured this question last week:

“Bids for this company’s headquarters included Atlanta’s offer of a dedicated MARTA train car & a (joking) offer to rename Calgary.”


We're not sure if it's just an idle rumor, but we picked up chatter from Democrats over the weekend that Clarkston Mayor Ted Terry was exploring a run for the U.S. Senate. Terry, the first vice-chair of the state Democratic party, didn't immediately comment on the chatter.


Something of a diplomatic tiff between anti-abortion groups emerged over the weekend. Our AJC colleague Maya Prabhu reports that Georgia Right to Life, once the most influential anti-abortion group at the state Capitol, has denounced Georgia's new law to require most women to carry pregnancies to term after about six weeks.

GRTL doesn't think the legislation goes far enough – exceptions are made for rape and incest, but only if timely police reports are filed – and so the group has rescinded some endorsements of state lawmakers who voted for the measure.

Cole Muzio heads up the Family Policy Alliance of Georgia – another anti-abortion group only in its second year. Muzio posted this reaction on Facebook late Friday:

I will say this: we will not be working with GRTL on political and policy objectives moving forward until/unless significant changes are made. While I do hope their educational efforts are successful, the organization harms our political/policy efforts for a Georgia where life is cherished.

We took a great step toward this vision this session, and it's been a privilege to be on the journey from the beginning as this moved from an idea, to a pledge, to a priority, to a bill, to a law. As we continue toward this vision, we will proceed by supporting those who made it all possible and partner with those who co-labored along the way.

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