Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Does Air Pollution Increase Depression and Suicide?

Popular
A growing body of evidence suggests that air pollution is harmful to mental as well as physical health. Rieko Honma / Stone / Getty Images Plus

A growing body of evidence suggests that air pollution is harmful to mental as well as physical health.


Now, the first review of studies linking air pollution and mental health problems has found that exposure to air pollution increases the risk of depression and suicide.

"We already know that air pollution is bad for people's health, with numerous physical health risks ranging from heart and lung disease to stroke and a higher risk of dementia," lead author Dr. Isobel Braithwaite of University College London (UCL) said in a press release. "Here, we're showing that air pollution could be causing substantial harm to our mental health as well, making the case for cleaning up the air we breathe even more urgent."

The review, published in Environmental Health Perspectives Wednesday, looked at data from 16 different countries gathered between 1974 and September of 2017. The researchers found 25 studies that met their criteria and used them to assess the association between particulate matter exposure and depression, suicide, anxiety, bipolar disorder and psychosis. The strongest links were between exposure and depression and suicide, New Scientist explained. They found a limited association with anxiety and none with bipolar disorder or psychosis.

Depression

A person who spends six months in an area with twice the World Health Organization's (WHO) fine particulate matter (PM2.5) limit of 10 micrograms per cubic metre of air (μg/m3) would have a 10 percent greater chance of developing depression than someone living in a place that met the limit, the study found.

This means that reducing air pollution to the EU's legal limit of 25µg/m3 could substantially reduce depression around the world, Braithwaite told The Guardian.

"You could prevent about 15% of depression, assuming there is a causal relationship. It would be a very large impact, because depression is a very common disease and is increasing," she said.

Suicide

The researchers also found that a short term increase in coarse particulate matter (PM10) exposure could increase suicide risk. If PM10 levels rose by 10µg/m3 for three days, suicide risk went up by 2 percent, the press release explained. The researchers ruled out other potential causes of risk, such as weather or the day of the week.

"This is something everyone is exposed to, so at the population level it is potentially concerning," Braithwaite told The Guardian.

Correlation or Causation?

Researchers are still not sure if air pollution actually causes mental health problems, or if it is merely associated with them. There is evidence that a physical mechanism could be in play.

"We know that the finest particulates from dirty air can reach the brain via both the bloodstream and the nose, and air pollution has been implicated in increased neuroinflammation, damage to nerve cells and to changes in stress hormone production, which have been linked to poor mental health," Braithwaite said in the press release.

The studies included in the review also ruled out many other factors that could influence mental health, such as income, education, employment and other health factors like smoking and obesity, The Guardian explained. The results also covered a wide variety of locations.

"This is a comprehensive review over a 40-year period," Ioannis Bakolis of King's College London, who was not involved in the research, told The Guardian. "Although the studies included were from different parts of the world – e.g. China, the U.S., Germany – and varied in sample size, study design and measures of depression, the reported associations were very similar."

However, the studies could not rule out the influence of noise or access to green space, New Scientist pointed out.

But senior study author Dr. Joseph Hayes of UCL pointed out that tackling air pollution would improve mental health even if it is not the direct cause of depression or suicide risk.

"A lot of what we can do to reduce air pollution can also benefit our mental health in other ways, such as enabling people to cycle or walk rather than drive, and enhancing access to parks, so this adds support to the promotion of active travel and urban green spaces," he said in the press release.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Pexels

By Shawna Foo

Anyone who's tending a garden right now knows what extreme heat can do to plants. Heat is also a concern for an important form of underwater gardening: growing corals and "outplanting," or transplanting them to restore damaged reefs.

Read More Show Less
Malte Mueller / Getty Images

By David Korten

Our present course puts humans on track to be among the species that expire in Earth's ongoing sixth mass extinction. In my conversations with thoughtful people, I am finding increasing acceptance of this horrific premise.

Read More Show Less
Women sort potatoes in the Andes Mountains near Cusco Peru on July 7, 2014. Thomas O'Neill / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Alejandro Argumedo

August 9 is the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples – a celebration of the uniqueness of the traditions of Quechua, Huli, Zapotec, and thousands of other cultures, but also of the universality of potatoes, bananas, beans, and the rest of the foods that nourish the world. These crops did not arise out of thin air. They were domesticated over thousands of years, and continue to be nurtured, by Indigenous people. On this day we give thanks to these cultures for the diversity of our food.

Read More Show Less
A sand tiger shark swims over the USS Tarpon in Monitor National Marine Sanctuary. Tane Casserley / NOAA

By John R. Platt

Here at The Revelator, we love a good shark story.

The problem is, there aren't all that many good shark stories. According to recent research, sharks and their relatives represent one of the world's most imperiled groups of species. Of the more than 1,250 known species of sharks, skates, rays and chimeras — collectively known as chondrichthyan fishes — at least a quarter are threatened with extinction.

Read More Show Less
The Anderson Community Group. Left to right, Caroline Laur, Anita Foust, the Rev. Bryon Shoffner, and Bill Compton, came together to fight for environmental justice in their community. Anderson Community Group

By Isabella Garcia

On Thanksgiving Day 2019, right after Caroline Laur had finished giving thanks for her home, a neighbor at church told her that a company had submitted permit requests to build an asphalt plant in their community. The plans indicated the plant would be 250 feet from Laur's backdoor.

Read More Show Less
Berber woman cooks traditional flatbread using an earthen oven in her mud-walled village home located near the historic village of Ait Benhaddou in Morocco, Africa on Jan. 4, 2016. Creative Touch Imaging Ltd. /NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Danielle Nierenberg and Jason Flatt

The world's Indigenous Peoples face severe and disproportionate rates of food insecurity. While Indigenous Peoples comprise 5 percent of the world's population, they account for 15 percent of the world's poor, according to the World Health Organization.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Danny Choo / CC BY-SA 2.0

By Olivia Sullivan

One of the many unfortunate outcomes of the coronavirus pandemic has been the quick and obvious increase in single-use plastic products. After COVID-19 arrived in the United States, many grocery stores prohibited customers from using reusable bags, coffee shops banned reusable mugs, and takeout food with plastic forks and knives became the new normal.

Read More Show Less