Pesticide use and depression in farmers

By John Crabtree
Center for Rural Affairs

Organic farming may be as important to the farmers who practice it as to those who purchase and eat the food they grow. This year, researchers with the National Institute of Health completed a landmark, 20-year study of the connection between pesticides and depression in farmers.

According to Dr. Freya Kamel, the study’s lead researcher, scattered reports in the literature about the association between pesticide use and depression led to the desire for further research. With much more detailed information available, researchers were able to delve into more specific questions about which pesticides farmers had used and whether they had sought treatment for depression.

The researchers found a significant correlation between depression and the use of some, but not all, agricultural pesticides. Organochloride insecticides and fumigants were found to increase a farmer’s risk of depression by 90% and 80%, respectively. Some of the most commonly used pesticides, such as Malathion, had been applied by 67% of the farmers interviewed.

And the results cannot be explained away by the stresses of a life in farming. Farmers interviewed were actually less likely to seek treatment for depression than the national population, making the results for those that used the pesticides in question even more dramatic.

Established in 1973, the Center for Rural Affairs is a private, non-profit organization working to strengthen small businesses, family farms and ranches, and rural communities through action oriented programs addressing social, economic, and environmental issues.

Author: Jana Pye

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