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Traci Pedersen
Herbicides Linked to Depression in Farmers
By Associate News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on August 3, 2013
Farmers who use herbicides are almost two-and-a-half times more likely to
seek treatment f or depression compared to f armers who do not use
herbicides, according to a new study published in the American Journal of
Furthermore, the greater the length of time that a f armer is exposed to
herbicides, the stronger the risk f or depression. These f indings raise more
concerns regarding the damage that f arming chemicals can inf lict on mental
For the study, researchers surveyed 567 f armers f rom France, questioning
them on the f requency of their use of f ungicides, insecticides, and
herbicides, to determine how pesticide exposures were linked to the risk of
developing clinical depression.
Lead researchers and associate prof essor at the Harvard School of Public
Health, Marc Weisskopf , Ph.D., said while the results are unclear, they
suggest we should not be ignoring herbicides just because theyre targeting plants.
Earlier studies have already shown that pesticides, particularly organophosphates, cause a variety of serious
neurological health problems, including Parkinsons disease.
For the new study, researchers conducted interviews, surveyed old pesticide containers, and even examined
records f or pesticide purchases. They also questioned whether f armers had ever been treated f or depression.
The f indings revealed that among 567 f armers, 83 self -reported treatment or hospitalization f or depression
nearly 15 percent. Af ter adjusting f or age and health f actors, the researchers f ound that f armers who use
herbicides were more than twice as likely to have been treated f or depression.
Also, those f armers who were exposed to herbicides f or a longer period of time either more hours of
exposure or f or a greater number of years were more likely to be treated f or depression than those with
less exposure.
Interestingly, the study f ound no connection between depression and f armers who had used f ungicides or
insecticides compared to those who had not. Weisskopf suggested that this may be because f armers are more
aware of the harm f ungicides and insecticides have on human health.
If (herbicides) are considered in general saf er and people take less precautions because people think theyre
not as bad, then that poses a problem, he said.
Although the research shows a strong link between herbicides and mental health, it does not def initively prove
cause and ef f ect. Researchers accounted f or age and cigarette smoking in their correlation; however, there
may be still be other unknown health conditions or external circumstances that af f ected work conditions or
made the f armers more susceptible to depression.
This still has to be considered a relatively f irst, small study. Theres more work to do, but it raises concerns
that need to be looked into more f ully, said Weisskopf .
Sources: American Journal of Epidemiology

Barrels of herbicide sitting in a field photo by shutterstock.
APA Reference
Pedersen, T. (2013). Herbicides Linked to Depression in Farmers. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 23, 2013,
f rom armers/58011.html