Exposure to pesticides and mental disorders in a rural population of Southern Brazil

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Exposure to pesticides has been associated with mental disorders, especially in occupationally exposed populations, such as farmers. This effect has been attributed to the neurotoxic and endocrine-disrupting activity of pesticides, as suggested by experimental studies.


To determine the prevalence of common mental disorders and self-reported depression, and analyze their association with the exposure to pesticides in a rural population resident in the municipality of Dom Feliciano, Rio Grande do Sul, where tobacco farming is the main economic activity.


A cross-sectional study evaluating the prevalence of common mental disorders and self-reported depression in a sample of 869 adult individuals resident in Dom Feliciano, between October 2011 and March 2012 was performed. The evaluation of common mental disorders was performed using the Self-Reporting Questionnaire (SRQ-20), setting a cutoff point of 8 for both genders. A standardized questionnaire was used to obtain information on self-reported depression upon prior diagnosis by a health professional, and self-reported exposure to pesticide. In order to evaluate the association between exposure to pesticides and mental disorders, a non-conditional multivariate logistic regression analysis was performed.


The prevalence of common mental disorders and self-reported depression in the sample population were 23% and 21%, respectively. Among individuals who reported depression, an increase of 73% was observed in the odds of pesticide exposure at an age equal to or less than 15 years. There was a positive association between self-reported pesticide poisoning and common mental disorders (OR = 2.63; 95% CI, 1.62-4.25) as well as self-reported depression (OR = 2.62; 95% CI, 1.63–4.21). Individuals who reported depression had a greater odds of exposure to pyrethroids (OR = 1.80; 95% CI, 1.01–3.21) and aliphatic alcohol (OR = 1.99; 95% CI, 1.04–3.83). An SRQ–20 ≥ 8 was associated with an approximately seven times higher odds of exposure to aliphatic alcohol (95% CI, 1.73–27.53). Self-reported depression positively correlated with a greater period of exposure to dinitroaniline (OR = 2.20; 95% CI, 1.03–4.70) and sulphonylurea (OR = 4.95; 95% CI, 1.06–23.04).


The results suggest that exposure to pesticides could be related mental disorders. However, other common risk factors in tobacco farming, the main local economic activity, cannot be excluded.

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