People exposed to higher levels of pesticides are more likely to have suicidal thoughts according to the findings of a new study in China.
The large mental health study – conducted in the central/costal area of China – was carried out by Dr Robert Stewart from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London and scientists from Tongde Hospital Zhejian Province. They asked participants how they stored organophosphate pesticides, and found that those who stored them at home were more likely to report recent suicidal thoughts.
Dr Stewart said: “Our research findings that suggest that higher exposure to these chemicals might actually increase the risk of suicidal thoughts provide further support for calls for tighter international restrictions on agricultural pesticide availability and use.”
The survey found suicidal thoughts were associated with how easily accessible the pesticides were in the home. It also found that the geographical areas with the highest home storage of pesticides had the highest level of suicidal thought in their populations.
Organophosphate pesticides are widely used around world in agriculture, but they are easily absorbed into the body through the skin and lungs, and because of their risk to health they are banned in many countries. They can be lethal chemicals when ingested as an overdose and are a cause of many suicides worldwide.
Dr Jianmin Zhang Associate Chief Psychiatrist at Tongde Hospital and Vice Director of the Zhejiang Office of Mental Health added: “The finding of this study suggested potential causal links and might partially account for the much higher incidence of suicide in rural rather than urban areas of China.” Dr Zhang also pointed out that further study with precisely defined and assessed exposure was needed as awareness of safer access to pesticides is important to users and policy makers.