Suicide and exposure to organophosphate insecticides: cause or effect?

Am J Ind Med. 2005 Apr;47(4):308-21. doi: 10.1002/ajim.20147.


Background: Suicide using pesticides as agent is recognized as a major cause of pesticide poisoning.

Methods: A literature review of mortality and morbidity studies related to suicide among pesticide-exposed populations, and of human and animal studies of central nervous system toxicity related to organophosphate (OP) pesticides was performed.

Results: Suicide rates are high in farming populations. Animal studies link OP exposure to serotonin disturbances in the central nervous system, which are implicated in depression and suicide in humans. Epidemiological studies conclude that acute and chronic OP exposure is associated with affective disorders. Case series and ecological studies also support a causal association between OP use and suicide.

Conclusions: OPs are not only agents for suicide. They may be part of the causal pathway. Emphasizing OPs solely as agents for suicide shifts responsibility for prevention to the individual, reducing corporate responsibility and limiting policy options available for control.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Agricultural Workers' Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Agricultural Workers' Diseases / epidemiology
  • Agricultural Workers' Diseases / prevention & control
  • Causality
  • Depressive Disorder / chemically induced*
  • Depressive Disorder / epidemiology
  • Global Health
  • Humans
  • Insecticides / adverse effects*
  • Insecticides / poisoning
  • Organophosphate Poisoning
  • Organophosphates / adverse effects*
  • Public Policy
  • Suicide / prevention & control
  • Suicide / statistics & numerical data*


  • Insecticides
  • Organophosphates