Air pollution is so depressing: New study shows high levels of particulates impact mental health


Toxic chemicals in the air have been shown to cause cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. However, air pollution does not only cause damage to our physical well-being, but our mental health as well.

A new study reported by the Science Daily shows that toxic air can cause psychological distress in humans. In the study, researchers from the University of Washington (UW) used data of more than 6,000 individuals from The Panel Study of Income Dynamics, which is a large, national study, to analyze the relationship between toxic air and mental health. The questionnaire measured the individuals’ emotions of sadness, nervousness, hopelessness, and were rated using a psychological distress scale. Then, they combined the air pollution database with reports correlating to the neighborhoods of every participant in the survey.

The researchers evaluated the measurements of fine particulate matter — a substance emitted by car engines, fireplaces, wood stoves, and power plants fueled by coal or natural gas. Fine particulate matter are particles in the air that are not larger than 2.5 micrometers in diameter which can easily be inhaled, absorbed into the bloodstream, and are more harmful than bigger particles. The researchers likewise considered physical, behavioral, socioeconomic factors that could affect the mental well-being of a person, which include chronic health problems, unemployment, and heavy alcohol drinking.

Results showed that the risk of mental distress surged as the number of fine particulate matter in the air grew. In the study, there was a 17 percent increase in mental distress in areas with high levels of pollution compared to areas with low levels of pollution.

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“This is really setting out a new trajectory around the health effects of air pollution,” said Anjum Hajat, lead author of the study.

The UW researchers also found that each increase in pollution of five micrograms per cubic meter is equivalent to a one and a half year loss in education. However, the reason why air pollution affects mental well-being was not covered by the study.

“Even moderate levels can be detrimental to health,” said Victoria Sass, a graduate student in the Department of Sociology at UW.

Hajat said that the negative effects of toxic air on cardiovascular and respiratory health are well established, but its effects on mental health is a newer area to be studied. She also said that air pollution can be reduced, but it needs the “political will to continue to regulate air quality.”

Even though air pollution has been declining in the United States, Hajat expressed that “the ability of communities to have clean air will be impacted with more lax regulation.”

Even low levels of air pollution can cause mental illness in children

The UW study is not the first study to discover the link between air pollution and mental health. A study published in the journal BMJ Open found that low levels of air pollution increased the risk of mental illness in children.

In the study, the researchers analyzed the pollution exposure of over 500,000 children in Sweden and differentiated it with records of prescribed medicines for mental illnesses, such as sedatives and anti-psychotics. (Related: Air pollution linked to anxiety symptoms covered up by mind-damaging psych drugs.)

“The results can mean that a lower concentration of air pollution, first and foremost from traffic, may reduce psychiatric disorders in children and adolescents,” explained Anna Oudin, lead author of the study. “I would be worried myself if I lived in an area with high air pollution.”

The study’s researchers concluded that special attention needs to be given to the potential health hazards air pollution may have to the mental health problems of society.

Sources include:

ScienceDaily.com

TheGuardian.com



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