Tuesday, Dec 1st, 2009
China has a very high suicide rate. Forty-four percent of the world’s suicides are committed in China. Suicide is also the fifth-leading cause of death in China. This caused the World Health Organization to raise some concern about the connection between organophosphate (OP) based pesticides and insecticides with suicide rates.
Organophosphates (OPs) were developed for the weapon of mass destruction known as nerve gas. OP based insecticides and pesticides are heavily used and stored in Chinese homes and farms since they are so inexpensive and they have not been banned for residential use as in several other countries.
“Many organophosphates (OPs) are potent nerve agents, functioning by inhibiting the action of acetylcholinesterase (AChE) in nerve cells. They …are frequently intentionally used in suicides in agricultural areas.” (Wikipedia)
There are also long term effects from exposure to OPs. Neurotransmitters such as acetylchloline are affected by long term low dosage OP exposure, which is absorbed through the lungs or skin. So there are established neurotoxic dangers that can result in degenerative mental conditions such as Alzheimer’s.
But the WHO wanted to determine if these OP neurotoxins had the mental effect of suicide ideation — the emergence of suicidal impulses and thoughts. Dr. Robert Stewart from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College in London, in conjunction with scientists from Tongde Hospital Zhejiang Province, in China conducted a preliminary study to determine a link for pesticide exposure with suicidal ideation.
The targets of their survey included people in different geographic areas, economic levels and walks of life. People were asked if they had ever attempted suicide or considered it. They found that people with the highest levels of pesticide/insecticide exposure in their homes exhibited suicidal ideation more than others.
This is the first study to offer epidemiological evidence linking OP based pesticide and insecticide exposure to suicidal thoughts. Dr. Stewart concluded “Organophosphates . . . are particularly lethal chemicals when taken in overdose and are a cause of many suicides worldwide . . . higher [long term] exposure to these chemicals might actually increase the risk of suicidal thoughts . . . .”
Dr. Jianmin Zhang, Associate Chief Psychiatrist of Tongde Hospital added, “The findings of this study suggested potential causal links . . . for the much higher incidence of suicide in rural rather than urban areas in China”.
Both researchers agreed more should be done to create international policies regarding exposure to neurotoxic organophosphate based pesticides and insecticides. Their findings were published in the October 2009 issue of the WHO Bulletin.