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The Surprising Link Between Air Pollution and Mental Health

Recent research has shown that small increases in air pollution are linked to significant rises in depression and anxiety. It has also linked dirty air to increased suicides and indicated that growing up in polluted places increases the risk of mental disorders.


Mental illnesses are health conditions in which one’s mood, thinking, and behavior are affected and altered. These illnesses may range from eating disorders to schizophrenia, and they are caused by various different factors. Some common causes are genetics, traumatic experiences, and chemical imbalances in the brain, and just recently, a new research published in the British Journal of Psychiatry had pointed out that there is a correlation between poor mental health and high exposures to pollution, adding to many preceding researches regarding this matter.



How does pollution affect mental health?


According to the study, “Residential air pollution exposure is associated with increased mental health service use among people recently diagnosed with psychotic and mood disorders” as they had observed that patients were more likely to be hospitalized or require community-based treatment if they had greater exposure to air pollution. The research indicated that the cause of this phenomenon is the high level of air pollution present in people’s homes, particularly nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter. It has been found out that these toxins in the air are likely to have adverse effects on human brains, not only affecting our mental health but also intelligence.


In another study conducted by King’s College London and Duke University, it was concluded that there is a higher chance for adolescence to develop mental illnesses when exposed to higher levels of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter during childhood. As the researchers assessed the mental health of 2,039 twins by the age of 18, the results obtained suggested that adolescents who were regularly exposed to moderate levels of nitrogen oxide would more likely experience psychiatric illness by young adulthood, with the results are independent of other influences that are likely to affect mental health.



What is nitrogen oxide and particulate matter?


Nitrogen oxide refers to a mixture of nitric oxide (NO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2), both of which are highly reactive gases produced from natural sources or through motor vehicles and other fuel combustion processes. Nitrogen dioxide, particularly, is formed through the combustion of