Globalisation of Pesticide Ingestion in Suicides: An Overview from a Deltaic Region of a Middle-Income Nation, India

Sohini Banerjee and Arabinda N. Chowdhury

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates more than 800,000 people died by suicide in 2012 (WHO 2014). Suicide is the leading cause of death in 15-29-year-olds across the world. However, there is a variation in the pattern of substances used in self-harm. Globally, consuming pesticides, hanging and firearms are the most universal methods of suicide (WHO 2014). At a time when poisoning due to medicines and drugs is a cause of alarm in industrialised nations, testimonies of increased pesticide poisoning are being reported from LMICs (Gunnell and Eddleston 2003). Pesticide poisoning and deliberate self-harm (DSH) is now considered as a major public health problem in LMICs (WHO 2004). Furthermore, an epidemic of farmers’ suicide by pesticide ingestion is emerging as an agrarian crisis in India (Das 2011).

Pesticide ingestion is increasingly becoming a popular method for attempting and committing suicide. All across the world, approximately 300,000,000 cases of pesticide poisoning occur each year leading to more than 250,000 deaths. These deaths comprise a significant portion of 900,000 people who die by suicide every year. These casualties occur predominantly in rural areas of several Asian communities (WHO 2006). Estimates indicate that

S. Banerjee

Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Guwahati, Assam, India A.N. Chowdhury

Institute of Psychiatry, Kolkata, West Bengal, India

Cambridge & Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust, Huntingdon, UK © The Author(s) 2017

R.G. White et al. (eds.), The Palgrave Handbook of Sociocultural Perspectives on Global Mental Health, DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-39510-8_32

approximately 60-90% of the suicides in the last decade in China, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Trinidad were due to pesticide ingestion (WHO 2006). The WHO reported that there has been a rise in pesticide-related suicides in Asia, Central and South America (WHO 2006). Globally, pesticide ingestion accounts for approximately one-third of all suicides (Gunnell et al. 2007). Furthermore, there is global variation: 4% in the European region; 56% in Western Pacific region; (Gunnel et al. 2007) and over 60% in rural SouthEast Asia (Gunnell and Eddleston 2003). In SE Asia as a whole it is estimated that more than 160,000 people committed suicide by ingesting pesticides (Gunnell et al. 2007). This has very serious financial implications on the health services of LMICs. An estimated cost of treating self-poisoning cases in Sri Lanka in 2004 was about $1 million (Wickramasinghe et al. 2009).

This chapter examines the following issues: the easy availability of pesticides in the geographically remote deltaic region in Eastern India, viz., the Sundarbans; the aggressive marketing by pesticide companies, the limited role of the local administration in the sale of pesticides, and specific sociocultural contexts in which pesticides are consumed to attempt self-harm.

In the next section, we intend to discuss briefly the prevailing pesticide scenario in the world.

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