Pesticides Can Increase Suicidal Thoughts

By Boonsri Dickinson | October 22, 2009 4:52 pm

3kidsChina has an incredibly high suicide rate —44 percent of the world’s suicides occur there. In 2007, China Daily reported that more suicides were happening in rural areas than urban ones, which is the opposite of the trend in other countries.

Now, scientists believe they’ve found the reason why: Exposure to agricultural pesticides increases the number of suicidal thoughts a person has. China still uses agricultural pesticides, or organophosphates, even though they’ve been banned in Western countries because of their known toxicity when ingested and the adverse mental health problems caused by long-term exposure.

Researchers from Tongde Hospital Zhejiang Province and King’s College London studied residents of central and coastal China and found the “first epidemiological evidence to suggest possible effects [of pesticides] on suicidal thoughts.” Leading the study, psychiatrist Robert Stewart took a survey of nearly ten thousand rural Chinese residents to find out how they stored pesticides. People who kept their pesticides in the house were more likely to think suicidal thoughts. Also supporting this casual link: The areas that reported higher numbers of home pesticide storage had a higher suicide thought rate overall.

Physorg reports:

Dr Robert Stewart comments: ‘Organophosphate pesticides are widely used around the world although are banned in many countries because of their risk to health. They are particularly lethal chemicals when taken in overdose and are a cause of many suicides worldwide. Our research findings that suggest that higher exposure to these chemicals might actually increase the risk of suicidal thoughts provides further support for calls for tighter international restrictions on agricultural pesticide availability and use.’

With suicide being the leading cause of death in people ages 15 to 34, public health officials should think about ways to minimize exposure to the pesticides—like making it mandatory to keep them out of the house.

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Image: flickr/ jefvandenhoute

  • Joe

    I regard this science report as junk science. What were the numbers out of 10,000?

    There is such a weak link in this case. No scientific evidence, just a question asked of the residents. Those more likely to commit suicide may have “thoughts of suicide” for many more other reasons than pesticides. They probably are so poor they no place else to store the pesticides; i.e. don’t even have another building/shop, etc. Being so poor (poorer than others who have other facilities for storage and other unknown amenities) can alone cause suicidal thoughts.

    Likewise for the second comment; the poorer people (with only a house and no other building to store pesticides) typically live in a community or in a general area and the community’s people probably has more suicidal thoughts because they are all poor.

    You could have substituted the question (Do you store pesticides in your home?) with “Do you eat rice more than twice a day? or “Do you wear the same clothes more than one day without washing? or “Do you all live together in a one room house? or “Do you bathe less than 7 times a week? any other similar question and would have gotten the same result.

    Think about it!

    Truly junk science!

  • Joe

    Oh, and one more thing!

    Organophosphate pesticides are NOT banned in the USA; a Western country. You can still purchase and apply them for pest control. There are dozens of them available for use; some without a pesticide license.

    While I don’t agree with rampant misuse of pesticides, and urge all to read all directions of all pesticides before use (and follow them), even with “Clorox or any other household pesticide that we don’t think of” as it too is a pesticide. I really think the link in the above “science” article is very, very weak!


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