Study Connects Air Pollution, Poor Mental Health
Previous research has shown a strong correlation between air pollution and human respiratory health. Recent studies also explored the link between dirty air and other diseases such as obesity and diabetes. However, no prominent study on the connection between toxic air and mental health has been delivered so far. Now a team of scientists studied this new area of research and found toxic air is also associated with psychological distress and poor mental health.
According to University of Washington researchers, the higher the level of particulates in the air, the greater the impact on mental health.
“This is really setting out a new trajectory around the health effects of air pollution,” said Anjum Hajat, an assistant professor of epidemiology in the UW School of Public Health. “The effects of air pollution on cardiovascular health and lung diseases like asthma are well established, but this area of brain health is a newer area of research.”
This study, published in the November issue of Health & Place, is believed to be the first to use a nationally representative survey pool, cross-referenced with pollution data at the census block level, to explore and assess the connection between toxic air and mental health.
The Study and Key Results
Curious about the connection between toxic air and mental health, the UW researchers invited 6,000 respondents from a larger, national, longitudinal study, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics. Researchers then merged an air pollution database with records corresponding to the neighborhoods of the 6,000 survey participants. The team zeroed in on measurements of fine particulate matter, also known as particle pollution, a complex mixture of extremely small particles and liquid droplets that get into the air. Once inhaled, these particles can affect the heart and lungs and cause serious health effects.
The survey questions relevant to the UW study measured participants’ feelings of sadness, nervousness, hopelessness and the like and were scored on a scale that assesses psychological distress.
The UW study found that the risk of psychological distress increased alongside the amount of fine particulate matter in the air. As an example, in areas with high levels of pollution (21 micrograms per cubic meter), psychological distress scores were 17 percent higher than in areas with low levels of pollution (5 micrograms per cubic meter). Another finding: Every increase in pollution of 5 micrograms per cubic meter had the same effect as a 1.5-year loss of education.
Pollution is Deadly
Pollution is a prevailing problem around the world. Its impact on communities can be deadly. Whether water pollution or air pollution, the effects are both catastrophic to the world’s communities.
With regards to air pollution, dirty air is almost everywhere in the world. Air pollution is affecting a majority of the global population. Dirty air is more prominent in the Western Pacific, the Mediterranean region, sub-Saharan countries and Southeast Asia, according to an air quality map released recently by the World Health Organization (WHO).
WHO says, based on the interactive map, 92% of the world’s population lives in places where outdoor air quality fails to meet guidelines.