How depressed do farmers feel on a daily basis? How excited are they about what lies ahead? How often do they feel like ending their life?
In a first, the Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), Ludhiana, has started work on a three-year study under National Agricultural Science Fund (NACF) of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), Delhi, under which experts would be creating a stress index and psychological resource index (PRI) of farmers in Punjab.
Punjab is one of the three states, apart from Telangana and Maharashtra, selected for the project by ICAR, due to the high farmer suicide rate in the three states. ICAR has released Rs 1.35 crore for this three-year study. The study will analyse the data collected from at least 1,000 farmers in Punjab to measure their stress levels and whether they are mentally strong enough to handle it. While the stress index will study stress levels based on eight statistical tools, the psychological resource index will assess their strength and steps needed to improve it.
Since PAU does not have a psychology department, it is being assisted by Punjabi University Patiala to prepare questionnaires and other material. Telangana State Agricultural University in Hyderabad and Marathwada Agricultural University in Maharashtra will conduct the study in their states.
PAU will also train 200 Peer Support Volunteers (PSVs) under the project for counselling farmers at the village level. Having received over 1,000 applications, the varsity has started the process to shortlist 200.
Dr Sarabjeet Singh, head of the department of agricultural journalism and principal investigator of the project, said, “We have named the project Utshah. The study has two major components – stress index and psychological resource index. Stress index of the farmers will be measured on the basis of eight tools, including depression, suicidal tendencies, resilience, hopelessness among others. It will be a qualitative as well as a quantitative study as apart from interviews, we shall also collect data and create an index on stress levels of farmers. On the lines of World Health Organisation (WHO), we will be starting psychological aid for farmers at the village level.”
Under the PRI, there will be a study on whether farmers are mentally strong enough to handle problems. “A farmer under Rs 2 lakh debt is committing suicide but a farmer with Rs 20 lakh debt is not. So, it is resilience and coping skills which differ. A separate index will include data on the mental preparedness of farmers to cope with odds in life,” said Sarabjeet, adding that the final report would be submitted to ICAR. “Once 200 PSVs are finalised in the coming three months, they will be working at the village level on the basis of which 1,000 farmers will be selected for this study.”
The varsity would be training volunteers in various aspects of psychology like positivity in life, listening to farmers with compassion, giving them hope, eliminating suicidal tendencies and hopelessness among others. “We are selecting them on the basis of personal interviews. Not everyone can be a counsellor for farmers. There has to be some skills and knowledge about agriculture,” said Sarabjeet.
He added that it was surprising that despite being one of the most stressful professions, the farming community does not have any psychological aid to handle stress. “It is one of the biggest factors leading to suicide. The project aims at measuring those stress levels on different scales and factors. In the current world, almost every professional needs some help to handle stress but farmers are not being provided any. In fact, they are most vulnerable to mental issues as farming is one of the most stressful professions now.”