Forgotten, Landmark Study Links Pesticides to Depression Among Farmers Who Use Them

By On July 31, 2017

While organic farming is still fighting for recognition and support among much of the general public, a growing mountain of evidence suggests that it may some day be a saving grace for countless thousands of farmers and consumers alike.

Synthetic pesticides, especially those sprayed en masse on modern day crops including Monsanto and others’ GMOs, are being increasingly linked to all manner of diseases.

Most of them are of an acute physical nature, but a landmark 20-year survey of farmers found that a debilitating mental disorder may be linked to pesticide spraying as well.

Long-term Study Links Depression and Farm Chemicals

For the study in question, which was undertaken by the National Institute of Health, about 84,000 farmers and their spouses were interviewed since the mid-1990s in order to investigate the connection between pesticides and depression. The farmers were surveyed multiple times in order to paint a detailed picture of the health problems they may facing as a result of pesticide exposure.

The results were detailed in this article posted on the website Modern Farmer, in which lead researcher Dr. Freya Kamel said that the study, finished in fall 2014, was designed to collect detailed data on a problem that has been suspected for decades.

The massive amount of data led the researchers to conduct mining sessions during which information was uncovered on links to depression and other health problems.

Among the findings: a “significant correlation” between pesticide use and depression was uncovered, and two specific categories were considered to be the most damaging: organchlorine insecticides and fumigants, which led to a shocking 90 and 80 percent increase in depression risk, respectively.

In addition, seven different specific pesticides were found to have a correlation between their application and categorically reliable depression among farmers.

Among them was malathion, which was used by 67% of farmers involved in the study, and is also banned throughout Europe.

“There had been scattered reports in the literature that pesticides were associated with depression,” said Dr. Freya Kamel, to Modern Farmer. “We wanted to do a new study because we had more detailed data than most people have access to.”

In total about 8 percent of farmers surveyed said they sought treatment for depression, which is less than the general public’s rate of about 10 percent, the article said. Of course, suffering from depression and seeking treatment are two different outcomes, articles on the study have noted. It should also be noted that agricultural workers have the highest suicide rate among 30 different active professional groups according to a 2016 CDC report; could pesticides be linked?

At any rate, there are clear correlations between pesticides and how they can affect human cognition.

I don’t think there’s any question that pesticides can affect the functions of the brain,” said Kamel recently to Environmental Health News.