Is air pollution causing mental health conditions like depression?
A study published today adds to evidence that air pollution may be linked to mental health conditions. But it’s not clear yet how – and if – pollution may be affecting our brains.
What has this new study discovered?
Analysing data from 151 million people in the US and 1.4 million people in Denmark, researchers have found that there is a strong correlation between poor air quality and higher rates of bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, personality disorders and major depression. This suggests there is a link, but not necessarily that pollution is causing these conditions.
How strong is the link between pollution and these conditions?
When the team looked at health insurance claims in the US, they found that the strongest predictor of being diagnosed with bipolar disorder – after ethnicity – was air quality. Previous studies have unearthed a correlation in the UK between polluted areas and teenagers reporting psychotic experiences and local air pollution and psychiatric disorders in Swedish children.
How good is the evidence for these?
“We don’t really know very much overall. We’ve only got a handful of studies and most have methodological problems,” says Helen Fisher of King’s College London, who worked on the UK teenager study.
One problem is a lack of data on what an individual’s true exposure to air pollution has been, with some research looking at city-wide air quality measurements rather than specific addresses. That’s a big weakness given we know air pollution exposure can vary significantly from one street to an adjacent one ...
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