Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Depression and suicide linked to air pollution in new global study

Damian Carrington Environment editor
Wed 18 Dec 2019 09.00 EST

People living with air pollution have higher rates of depression and suicide, a systematic review of global data has found.

Cutting air pollution around the world to the EU’s legal limit could prevent millions of people becoming depressed, the research suggests. This assumes that exposure to toxic air is causing these cases of depression. Scientists believe this is likely but is difficult to prove beyond doubt.
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The particle pollution analysed in the study is produced by burning fossil fuels in vehicles, homes and industry. The researchers said the new evidence further strengthened calls to tackle what the World Health Organization calls the “silent public health emergency” of dirty air.


“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,” Braithwaite said.

Joseph Hayes, also at UCL and part of the research team, said: “The evidence is highly suggestive that air pollution itself increases the risk of adverse mental health outcomes.”


The research, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, used strict quality criteria to select and pool research data from 16 countries published up to 2017. This revealed a strong statistical link between toxic air and depression and suicide. This is supported by more recent research, including studies that linked air pollution with “extremely high mortality” in people with mental disorders and a quadrupled risk of depression in teenagers.

Other research indicates that air pollution causes a “huge” reduction in intelligence and is linked to dementia. A comprehensive global review earlier in 2019 concluded that air pollution may be damaging every organ and virtually every cell in the human body.


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