World Suicide Prevention Day: myth-busting pesticide suicide

To mark World Suicide Prevention Day (Saturday 10th September), the Centre for Pesticide Suicide Prevention is taking a closer look at some of the myths surrounding pesticide suicide.

This article discusses suicidal behaviour. If you have questions on self-harm or feel suicidal, call 116 123 to speak to a Samaritan (UK) or use the link to find an international helpline.

Myth 1: Only people with mental health disorders are suicidal

Most people have moments in life where they are at high-risk of self-harm, without any underlying mental health conditions. An act of self-harm is often a spontaneous reaction to a distressing situation. Research shows this is the case with pesticide poisoning, with more than half of people deciding to harm themselves less than 30 minutes before. The accessibility of lethal pesticides during this short moment of crisis is therefore significant.

Myth 2: People who intentionally ingest pesticides are determined to die

The majority of people who self-harm through pesticide poisoning do not intend to die. Self-harm is often used as a method of communication – to tell others that they feel angry or upset. Many people, especially younger people, only ingest small amounts of poison.

Myth 3: If someone survives a pesticide suicide attempt, they will just find another way to die

As most acts of self-harm with pesticides are impulsive, people who survive rarely attempt suicide by using other means or try again with pesticides. Countries such as Sri Lanka that have restricted access to lethal pesticides have seen a considerable fall in their overall suicide rate.

Myth 4: Pesticides are safe, it is misuse by farmers that causes harm

Farmers are expected to read the labels to know the risks; however, many are unable to read or understand them. In hot and humid conditions, wearing full personal protective equipment (PPE) is also impractical. It is the high toxicity and easy accessibility of pesticides that puts farmers and their families at risk.

Myth 5: Banning pesticides will have a serious impact on agriculture

Research from across the world shows that carefully considered bans on highly hazardous pesticides, along with promotion of suitable alternatives, do not affect crop production.

Myth 6: You need to be a psychiatrist or health expert to prevent suicide

Government officials and pesticide regulators have a key role to play by restricting access to lethal means of suicide. Local pesticide vendors may also be able to act as ‘gatekeepers’, ensuring that pesticides are not sold to people at risk of self-harm.