Suicide is a dire issue facing the U.S., with devastating effects on individuals, families and communities. According to the CDC, suicide is a leading cause of death, claiming nearly 48,000 lives in 2021 alone.

Shockingly, suicide rates are significantly higher in rural areas, with rates among people living in rural counties 64% to 68% higher than those in urban areas. Farmers are also 3.5 times more likely to die by suicide than the general population, according to the National Rural Health Association. These alarming statistics underscore the urgent need for accessible mental health resources and suicide prevention initiatives in rural communities.

In response to this pressing need, NY FarmNet is partnering with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) to bring the “Talk Saves Lives” program to communities throughout New York State. Led by a small cohort of trained and certified instructors, these presentations offer a standardized, 45- to 60-minute education program aimed at increasing awareness of suicide prevention strategies and providing participants with the tools to save lives.

The “Talk Saves Lives” presentations deliver essential suicide prevention education directly to rural communities. Through informative sessions, participants gain a comprehensive understanding of suicide risk factors, warning signs and prevention approaches. They also learn practical strategies for managing mental health and supporting others who may be in crisis.

Audrey McDougal, Licensed Clinical Social worker and one of the presenters for the series, brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the program. With over 10 years of experience providing mental health services to children and families, McDougal helps address the complex issues surrounding suicide prevention when presenting “Talk Saves Lives.”

“I hope that people will leave the presentation feeling informed, empowered and more comfortable talking about suicide than when they arrived,” said McDougal. “I would love to see people checking in with their friends and loved ones on a regular basis, having more direct conversations about mental health at the dinner table and knowing it’s okay to tell someone if you’re concerned about them. I also hope that people will remember that suicidal feelings are often temporary, treatable and preventable – and there are many resources to utilize to get through difficult times (such as the 988 lifeline). Finally, I hope people leave knowing that they are not alone in facing the challenge of suicide and talking about it is the first step toward saving lives.”

NY FarmNet presents ‘Talk Saves Lives’ to bring suicide prevention education to communities across NYS

(L – R) Elaine Eaton and Audrey McDougal, Licensed Mental Health Counselors and NY FarmNet family consultants. Photo courtesy of NY FarmNet

One of the primary barriers to addressing mental health issues in rural communities is the lack of access to healthcare providers and resources. Many rural areas struggle with shortages of mental health professionals, making it difficult for individuals to seek help when they need it most. Additionally, limited access to broadband internet and digital healthcare further exacerbates this problem, isolating individuals and hindering their ability to connect with vital support services.

According to NY FarmNet Executive Director Greg Mruk, providing “Talk Saves Lives” presentations is an important component of the program’s educational outreach. “The educational programing we share at NY FarmNet with ‘Talk Saves Lives’ is an important component of our desire to improve the understanding surrounding a difficult topic for many people to talk about,” said Mruk. “Every person has the ability to help someone who might be considering ending their lives by simply talking to them. ‘Talk Saves Lives’ offers some of the techniques and awareness on how to do this.”

The success of past presentations underscores the importance and effectiveness of this initiative. Recent “Talk Saves Lives” events at Cornell University and other venues have provided participants with valuable insights and practical strategies for addressing mental health challenges. By fostering open dialogue and increasing awareness, these presentations empower individuals to take proactive steps toward suicide prevention.

Looking ahead, the upcoming “Talk Saves Lives” presentations at Cornell University School of Veterinary Medicine and CCE Suffolk promise to continue this momentum, reaching new audiences and sparking meaningful conversations about suicide prevention. With each presentation, NY FarmNet and AFSP are making significant strides in breaking down barriers to mental healthcare and saving lives in rural communities.

Suicide prevention is a critical issue that demands our collective attention and action. By bringing the “Talk Saves Lives” program to communities throughout New York State, NY FarmNet and AFSP are making a tangible difference in the fight against suicide. Through education, awareness and support, we can create safer, healthier communities where everyone can thrive.

Upcoming “Talk Saves Lives” presentations:

  • May 1 – Cornell University Vet School, 618 Tower Rd., Ithaca, 12:10 – 1:10 p.m.
  • May 23 – CCE Suffolk, 423 Griffing Ave., Riverhead, 1 – 2 p.m.

Founded in 1986 in response to the national farm crisis, NY FarmNet provides free, confidential, on-farm consulting to any farmer, farm family or agribusiness employee in New York State. All services are confidential and free of charge. For more information or to request assistance, call 1.800.547.3275 or visit

by Adam Howell, Outreach Director, NY FarmNet