Background Exposure to pesticides is associated with mental disorders, including depression, especially among occupationally exposed populations, such as farmers. The results of experimental studies ascribed the negative effects of pesticides on mental health to their neurotoxic and endocrine-disrupting activities. Purpose This study aimed to investigate the association between the risk of depression and high- or low-level exposure to pesticides in a rural population. Methods This longitudinal study was performed in 2005–2008 (baseline) and 2008–2012 (follow-up) to evaluate the risk of depression among 2151 Korean adults. A standardized questionnaire was used to obtain information on depression upon self-reported exposure to pesticide based on the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale. Logistic regression analysis was performed to evaluate the association between pesticide exposure and depression. We adjusted the data for age, cigarette smoking status, current alcohol use, monthly income, educational level, marriage status, and religion. Results Among the individuals who reported depression, the number of participants who used pesticides was significantly higher than that who did not (N = 61 [7.2%] vs. N = 54 [4.2%], P = 0.003). A positive association was noted between >20-year period of pesticide use and depression (odds ratio [OR], 2.35; 95% confidence interval [CI], 1.41–3.88). Individuals who reported depression showed greater odds of being exposed to higher pesticide concentrations (OR, 2.33; 95% CI, 1.40–3.88) and experiencing pesticide poisoning (OR, 5.83; 95% CI, 1.80–18.86) than those who did not. Conclusion Exposure to pesticides at a high concentration was found to be associated with depressive symptoms among Korean adults.
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