Herbicides Tied to Depression in Farmers

Posted on August 14th, 2013
Posted in Depression

Herbicides Tied to Depression in FarmersHerbicides are plant poisons used in farming, and sometimes in backyard gardening, to kill weeds and other plants that are unwanted. If you use herbicides in your yard or to clean out the cracks in your driveway and walkway, your exposure is probably minimal. What if you were a farmer using herbicides on a large scale? Would you be concerned about your health?

According to a new study, farmers using herbicides should be concerned about their mental health. While the authors of the study caution that it is only the first such study, and a small one, they did find a definite link between depression and herbicide use among farmers. More studies have been focused on the ill effects of pesticides, and this is one of the few to target herbicides.

Herbicides and Depression in Farmers

The recent study was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology and involved 567 farmers from France. The farmers were interviewed and asked about their use of herbicides, including the kinds they used, how much they used, how often they applied herbicides and for how long they had been using the poisons. The researchers also examined the herbicides the farmers had on their land and their purchase records. Finally, the farmers were asked about being treated for depression.

The authors of the study report a clear connection between herbicide use and depression in the farmers. They found that 15 percent, or 83 of the farmers in the study, were treated for or hospitalized for depression at some point. The researchers adjusted the data for factors like age and overall health and still found that the farmers who used herbicides were more than two times as likely to be treated for depression.

The study also found that the chances of being treated for depression rose with the amount of exposure the farmers had to herbicides. For instance, those farmers who used herbicides for more years, or were exposed to them for more hours during application, were even more likely to seek depression treatment.

The Limitations

The authors believe that the connection between herbicide use and depression is important. However, they also caution that the study does not prove that herbicides cause depression. They found only a connection between the two. It is still possible that there are other factors at work causing the depression.

The researchers consider their study to be important, but just a preliminary look at depression and herbicides. They hope that their work will be followed up by further studies that can pick apart the connection and find definitive causes of depression in farmers. They also point out that farmers and others who use herbicides need to take their work seriously. Just because these poisons target plants does not mean that they cannot cause harm to humans.

Pesticides and Mental Health

While the recent study was one of the first to make a connection between herbicides and mental health, earlier studies have looked at pesticides. The researchers looking at French farmers interestingly found that depression among them did not seem to be related in any way to pesticide use. Pesticides are chemicals that kill insects. The study authors hypothesize that farmers are more cautious about pesticide use and protect themselves better than when they use herbicides. This could account for the connection between depression and herbicides, but not pesticides.

Many studies and reports have linked pesticides to poor human health, both physical and mental. In developing nations, pesticide poisoning is not uncommon, and some people even use pesticides in suicide attempts. When those attempts fail, they can leave the victim temporarily or permanently disabled. One study from China found a connection between the use of pesticides and suicidal thoughts. The pesticides used by the people in the study were organophosphates, which have been shown to cause physical health problems and have been banned in many Western countries.

As more research is conducted into the effects of pesticides and herbicides on physical and mental health, we should all be paying attention. Farmers and farm workers are more exposed to these chemicals than the rest of us, but we all eat the food that comes from farming. If the chemicals are affecting the farmers, they could be affecting the rest of us as well. Additional research should be able to give us more definite answers about herbicides and mental health.

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