DEC 25, 2019 12:35 PM PST

Air Pollution Linked to Depression and Suicide

WRITTEN BY: Annie Lennon

Living amid high levels of air pollution increases one’s risk of developing depression and commiting suicide, says new research from University College London. These findings, say researchers, should strengthen calls to reduce air pollution, and address what the World Health Organization considers a “silent public health emergency”. 

Leader of the investigation, Isobel Braithwaite said, “We know that the finest particulates from dirty air can reach the brain via both the bloodstream and the nose, and that air pollution has been implicated in increased (brain) inflammation, damage to nerve cells and to changes in stress hormone production, which have been linked to poor mental health.”

To understand this knowledge existed in concrete reality, Braithwaite and her team analyzed data from 16 countries including China, the US and Germany over a 40-year period, specifically honing in on the link between particle pollution, particles smaller than 2.5 micrometres (PM2.5), and mental health outcomes. 

In their results, they found a strong statistical link between air pollution and depression and suicide. In total, they noticed that people exposed to an increase of 10 micrograms per cubic metre in levels of PM2.5 for a year or more were 10% more likely than others exposed to cleaner air to get depressed. They also found that as a short-term effect, an increase of 10 micrograms per cubic meter of PM10 (particles measuring up to 10 micrometers) increased one’s chances of committing suicide by 2%. This is jarring information when we consider that some cities, such as Delhi in India, regularly have levels of PM2.5 of 150+ micrograms per cubic meter regularly, alongside PM10 levels exceeding 80 micrograms per cubic meter. 

However, despite the confidence many have in the correlation between air quality, depression and suicide, some remain skeptical. John Ioannidis from Stanford University for example, is not convinced by the findings. Given that most of the studies to date looking at a correlation between air quality and mental health have high degrees of uncertainty, he said, “Putting them together in a meta-analysis reduces this uncertainty somewhat, but may give some false reassurance that we know more than we really do. “

Although he recognizes the ill effects of air pollution on general health, he added, “I worry that by trying to expand the range of diseases that are putatively associated with air pollution, we forget that air pollution is already proven to be bad in major ways, including death risk. Instead of acting on it, we may end up asking for more research, wasting valuable time. “


Sources: The Guardian, Newsweek and New Scientist

About the Author
  • Annie graduated from University College London and began traveling the world. She is currently a writer with keen interests in genetics, psychology and neuroscience; her current focus on the interplay between these fields to understand how to create meaningful interactions and environments.
You May Also Like
NOV 25, 2019
Neuroscience
NOV 25, 2019
Mapping the Maturation of Nerve Cells
Above: A video from Harvard Medical School describing how neural networks are studied, a summary of how they work, and why it is important.  Scientist...
NOV 26, 2019
Neuroscience
NOV 26, 2019
Air Pollution Linked to Alzheimer's, Study Finds
Worldwide, 9 in every 10 people breathe highly polluted air. A known contributing factor for many respiratory illnesses such as lung cancer, an increasing ...
DEC 04, 2019
Neuroscience
DEC 04, 2019
Antibiotic Usage May Cause Parkinson's, Study Finds
A study from Helsinki University Hospital, Finland suggests that excessive usage of certain antibiotics may increase one’s risk of developing Parkins...
JAN 03, 2020
Drug Discovery & Development
JAN 03, 2020
Researchers Grow Psilocybin from E. Coli Bacteria
Previously considered to be narcotic, and under tight regulation as an illicit drug for decades, research from recent years on the possible medicinal prope...
JAN 11, 2020
Neuroscience
JAN 11, 2020
Molecular Therapy to Self-Repair Nerve Cells
Neurodegenerative diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Alzheimer's, and Huntington's Disease are predicated on damage to myelin on nerve cells...
FEB 26, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
FEB 26, 2020
Optogenetic Techniques Provide Insight Into ALS
In humans, motor neurons link thoughts with the motion of the body. Now researchers have learned more about how they are impacted by ALS....
Loading Comments...