The Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) here has teamed up with its counterparts in Telangana and Maharashtra, and also the psychology department of the Punjabi University at Patiala, to 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.
The exercise is part of a research project titled ‘Addressing Farmer Suicides through Capacity Building of Farming Families’, which PAU is undertaking in partnership with the Professor Jayashankar Telangana State Agricultural University, Hyderabad and the Vasantrao Naik Marathwada Krishi Vidyapeeth at Parbhani, Maharashtra.
The project, for which the Indian Council of Agricultural Research has released Rs 1.35 crore, will focus on the “psychological and behavioural aspects” behind farmer suicides. The target is to survey 1,000 “vulnerable” farmer households at both baseline (before counselling) and endline (after counselling) stages, while also training 200 “peer support volunteers (PSVs) in Punjab and 100 each in the other two states. They would identify distressed farmers within their areas and provide about six months of counselling to prevent them from taking any extreme steps.
Harprit Kaur, head of Punjabi University’s psychology department, which has also been roped in for the project, said that the statistical testing tools for creation of an SI and a “psychological resource index” (PSI) of farmers have already been finalised. Distressed farmers would typically exhibit high SI and low PSI – a measure of their mental strength and resilience to cope up with stress – which should ideally reverse at the end of counselling. Kaur’s department is also involved in designing the training module for the PSVs, who would be doing the counselling.
“The testing tools to create the SI and PRI, based on farmer household surveys, include 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,” explained Kaur, a trained clinical psychologist.
The research project would, among other things, compare the SI and PRI levels of the identified farmers for the baseline period with that at the end of the project. This would help gauge the impact of the programme, which could eventually form the basis for a nationwide intervention. The PAU-led team is supposed to submit its study report by September 2019.
“It is a first-of-its-kind project aimed at providing psychological first-aid to farmers and equipping them mentally to handle stress even in a time of agrarian crisis. Most studies we have so far don’t go beyond statistical analysis of farmer suicides and the economic factors such as indebtedness, crop damage or non-remunerative prices leading to them,” noted Sarabjeet Singh, professor at PAU’s department of agricultural journalism, language and culture.
The PSVs would basically be educated rural youth, trained to listen to farmers and encourage them to follow a “positive path” focussing on simple lifestyle and shunning pomp and show in marriages, etc, said Singh, the principal investigator for the project.