Using standardized interviews 374 subjects randomly selected among people living in two villages in a mining district in Sardinia (Italy), were studied. Of these, 57 subjects (15·2%) were identified as ‘cases’. Ten per cent of the sample was affected by a depressive syndrome and 4% by an anxiety disorder. Females were significantly more at risk for anxiety disorders, while a trend towards a major risk for depression emerged among middle-aged and elderly people. Of the sample 9·8% were taking benzodiazepines, with a significant over representation of females. Depressed subjects took benzodiazepines more frequently than anxious subjects, while the use of antidepressants was negligible.