How Air Pollution Affects Mental Health

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How Air Pollution Affects Mental Health

Many people worry about the state of our planet and the air we breathe. With an increase in industry, clean and fresh air may be harder to come by. While many have concerns about how this air is impacting our respiratory health, new studies show that physical health shouldn’t be our only concern. As a Banyan Lake Worth rehab that offers Florida mental health care, we are always concerned with the state of mental health, so we’re looking into the link between air pollution and mental health problems.


What Is Air Pollution?

Since the 1970s, researchers have known that high levels of air pollution can wreak havoc on cardiovascular and respiratory health, increasing the risk of premature death from heart and lung disease. Air pollution effects on mental health are less understood, however. Before we can get into this relationship, let’s go over what air pollution means.

Air pollution refers to the contamination of the indoor or outdoor environment by any chemical, physical, or biological agent that modifies the atmosphere’s natural characteristics. Common sources of air pollution include household combustion devices, motor vehicles, industrial facilities, and forest fires. Air pollutants that present respiratory risk and risk for other diseases include particulate matter, carbon monoxide, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), almost all of the global population (99%) breathes air that contains high levels of pollutants, with low- and middle-income countries suffering from the highest exposures.1 Air quality is also closely linked to the earth’s climate and ecosystems, with many drivers of air pollution acting as sources of greenhouse gas emissions, as well. Policies to reduce air pollution can, therefore, offer a win-win strategy, lowering the burden of disease linked to air pollution while contributing to the near- and long-term mitigation of climate change.


Studies Find Connection Between Air Pollution and Mental Health

While many people are quick to cite the rise in social media and the internet as a cause for poorer mental health in the younger generations, air quality may be playing a larger role than most people realize. If pollution continues to get worse, there may be a rise in mental health problems, and as a behavioral health facility, this is concerning.

Not only has research already found air pollution can contribute to lung cancer, asthma, heart disease, and even Alzheimer’s, but additional studies looking at the effects of air pollution on mental health present troubling results.2 Study after study have shown that pollution affects mental health in a negative way. One study found that long-term exposure to air pollutants like particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, and carbon monoxide was associated with higher rates of subjective stress, depressiveness, and suicide idealization.3

Another Korean study has shown that long-term exposure to particulate matter increases the risk of developing a major depressive disorder.4 Both of these studies focused on how air pollution affects mental health in adults, but children are being affected as well.

Even short-term exposure to ambient air pollution has been associated with exasperated psychiatric disorder symptoms in children one or two days after exposure.5 For children who grow up in high-traffic air pollution areas, the results are even worse. This long-term exposure is associated with higher incidences of generalized anxiety and self-reported depression.5

We’ve also found air pollution and mental health evidence from China, a country known for its extreme air pollution. The China Family Panel Studies (CFPS) covered 12,615 urban residents from 2014 to 2015 and found that there was a link between air pollution and mental health problems. Specifically, a one-standard-deviation increase in average (particulate matter) PM2.5 concentrations in the past month increased the probability of having a score that is associated with severe mental illness by 6.67%.6

Overall, the most common effects of air pollution on mental health research has discovered include:

  • Higher rates of stress
  • Higher rates of depression and sadness
  • Higher rates of suicidal ideation and behaviors
  • Increased risk of developing an anxiety disorder

Additional problems associated with exposure to air pollution include cancer, neurological disorders, learning problems, thyroid disease, immune issues, fertility and pregnancy problems, and birth defects, to name a few.


Help for Mental Illness in Florida

Regardless of whether it is from the air you breathe or not, mental health problems should not be ignored. If left untreated, these issues may continue to get worse and lead to secondary issues, such as substance abuse. Especially because depression can lead to suicidal thoughts or actions, seeking professional depression treatment or recovery services is crucial for recovery.

Mental illness shouldn’t be something you have to battle on your own. If you or a loved one is struggling with mental health or a substance abuse problem, get help today. At Behavioral Health of the Palm Beaches, our goal is to help patients live happier and healthier lives.

Call our Palm Beach county rehab today at 561-220-3981 or send us your contact information to talk with a team member about our mental health and addiction treatment in Lake Worth.



  1. WHO – Air pollution
  2. CleanTechnica – The Brain, Air Pollution, & CO2 — The Years Project Connects The Dots (Videos)
  3. NCBI – Long-term exposure to ambient air pollutants and mental health status: A nationwide population-based cross-sectional study
  4. NCBI – Long-Term Fine Particulate Matter Exposure and Major Depressive Disorder in a Community-Based Urban Cohort
  5. Cincinnati Children’s – Studies Link Air Pollution to Mental Health Issues in Children
  6. National Bureau Of Economic Research – Air Pollution and Mental Health: Evidence from China


Related Reading:

Ways to Improve Your Mental Health at Work

How to Become a Mental Health Advocate

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