When one thinks of the adverse effects of air pollution on health, the most common effect
that comes to mind involves physical symptoms and illnesses, like damage to the lungs and
airway systems, and aggravation of breathing problems like asthma. However, exposure to
excessive levels of air pollutants result in a broad range of consequences on the functioning
of our body, including our mental health.
There is a need for further studies and meta-analysis investigating the direct association
between air pollution and mental health. However, there is growing evidence across several
studies that strongly suggests a positive correlation between rising frequency and severity
of various mental health disorders and increasing air pollution. A study conducted by Vert et
al (2017) found that the rate of depression almost doubled in areas where the level of
pollutant nitric oxide was higher in the air. In addition, a meta-analysis of studies conducted
by Braithwaite et al (2019) found that exposure to particulate matter (PM) in the air
increases the risk of psychiatric disorders like depression and anxiety.
There are a few possible explanations for the association between air pollution and mental
health. When air pollutants and particulate matter are inhaled by us, it causes inflammation
and oxidative stress in the brain, which disrupts the functioning of the central nervous
system and increases the risk of depression and other disorders like bipolar disorder. In
addition to the effect of air pollutants on these bodily functions, a number of external
factors like frequency of exposure to air pollutants and the individual’s psychiatric history
can play a role in the increased risk of developing psychiatric disorders.
Hence, while there is a clear correlation between air pollution and mental health, further
research is required into the direct causal relationship between the two. More extensive
epidemiological human studies need to be conducted to isolate and identify the causes and
treatments for the effect of air pollution on mental health. This is especially vital in our
current times, when air pollution is on the rise due to factors like global warming.
Ali, N. A., & Khoja, A. (2019). Growing Evidence for the Impact of Air Pollution on
Depression. The Ochsner journal, 19(1), 4. https://doi.org/10.31486/toj.19.0011
Vert, C. et al (2017) Effect of long-term exposure to air pollution on anxiety and depression
in adults: a cross-sectional study. Int J Hygiene Environment Health
Braithwaite, I. et al (2019) Air Pollution (Particulate Matter) Exposure and Associations with
Depression, Anxiety, Bipolar, Psychosis and Suicide Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-
Analysis. Environmental Health Perspectives, vol 127, No. 12