When talking about the negative effects of air pollution, a lot of focus is placed on the physical diseases that occur from pollutant exposure. But did you know that air pollution affects mental health as well? Read on to find out more.

Research results linking air pollution to mental health

The subject of the link between air pollution and mental health is not mentioned by governmental bodies and agencies like the World Health Organization (WHO) because it is difficult to determine a clear causal relationship between the two. Nonetheless, there are many studies that point strongly towards this connection. Here is an overview of the literature so far:

  • There is a suggested link between air pollution and bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia, and personality disorders
  • Visits to mental health service centres are higher on days with increased PM pollution
  • Mortality associated with mental and behavioural disorders are higher on haze days
  • Various studies have discovered suicides correlated with higher levels of NO2, O3, PM, and SO2
  • Interquartile range increases in NOx and PM2.5 are associated with an 18-39% increase in common mental disorders
  • An interquartile range increase in PM10 is associated with 33% of psychotic experiences
  • Specific to children, researchers have found that young people were 3x to 4x more likely to have depression at age 18 if they had grown up in areas with higher air pollution at age 12

When it comes to indoor air quality, carbon dioxide (CO2) in particular has a significant effect on cognitive capabilities, productivity, comfort, and mental well-being, though not on physical health. Despite its contributions to air pollution and climate change, CO2 isn’t considered to be a pollutant as it is a gas that naturally occurs in our atmosphere and is essential for life. Its ability to trap heat and keep the earth’s surface warm as a greenhouse gas (GHG) is what makes the planet habitable.

How do air pollutants affect mental health?

Research regarding the neurological effects of air pollution found increased brain inflammation resulting from PM exposure. Increased levels of cytokines, molecules that regulate the body’s inflammatory response, are correlated with anxiety and depression. Long-term neuroinflammation is also a factor in many central nervous system disorders like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. 

How can the effects of air pollution on mental health be mitigated?

There are ways you can do to handle your mental health, such as:

  • Managing stress through meditation, yoga, journalling
  • Adjusting diet and exercising 
  • Getting enough sleep and sunlight
  • Seeking therapy

While air pollution is not the sole factor in causing mental health disorders, its role cannot be denied. Protect yourself by checking the air quality index (AQI) of your neighborhood daily, so that you can take appropriate measures to protect yourself from air pollution. At Breeze Technologies, we have an Air Quality Citizen Portal, free for viewing online, for this very purpose. Long-term improvements to air quality require government action, of which you can lobby for. In the meantime, here are 10 things you can do to improve air quality in your city. Let’s all do our part to clear the air.