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New Links Found Between Depression and Air Pollution

Depression has been one of the most sharply increasing mental health disorders of the last several decades. Today, the major depressive disorder affects approximately 7 percent of the US population in any given year. While the causes of depression are complex and not fully understood, a growing body of research has pointed to links between depression and air pollution. Recently, a new study sheds light on how air pollution may lead to higher rates of depression.

In that study, researchers examined a group of healthy participants residing in Beijing, a city known for its relatively high levels of air pollution. Using air quality monitors, the researchers were able to estimate the participants’ exposure to PM 2.5 or fine particulate matter. Participants were then evaluated for signs of depression, as well as tested for overall cognitive performance.

In addition to bearing out the already established link between depression, lower cognitive performance, and air quality, the study identified a possible mechanism by which pollution could increase the risk of depression. The researchers found that individuals with a genetic predisposition toward major depressive disorder were much more likely to develop it if exposed to higher levels of PM 2.5. Air pollution also appears to act on and cause inflammation within neural networks in which depression-associated genes are expressed. This combination of genetic proclivity and environmental stimulus may help to explain increased rates of depression, as well as why some people living in heavily polluted areas develop depression while others remain mentally healthy.


While much more research is needed to fully understand the link between depression and air pollution, this study represents a major step forward in that effort. In the future, its results may also help those who are at the highest genetic risk of depression protect themselves proactively from environmental risk factors, including air pollution.

For now, the best thing people living in polluted areas can do to reduce their health risks from particulate matter, VOCs and other pollutants is to use a home air purifier. By controlling the air quality in your home, you can limit your exposure to harmful pollutants. Check out our complete selection of home air purifiers to find the model that’s right for your needs.


Research results linking air pollution to mental health

The subject of the link between air pollution and mental health is not mentioned by governmental bodies and agencies like the World Health Organization (WHO) because it is difficult to determine a clear causal relationship between the two. Nonetheless, there are many studies that point strongly towards this connection. Here is an overview of the literature so far:

  • There is a suggested link between air pollution and bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia, and personality disorders
  • Visits to mental health service centers are higher on days with increased PM pollution
  • Mortality associated with mental and behavioral disorders are higher on haze days
  • Various studies have discovered suicides correlated with higher levels of NO2, O3, PM, and SO2
  • Interquartile range increases in NOx and PM2.5 are associated with an 18-39% increase in common mental disorders
  • An interquartile range increase in PM10 is associated with 33% of psychotic experiences
  • Specific to children, researchers have found that young people were 3x to 4x more likely to have depression at age 18 if they had grown up in areas with higher air pollution at age 12


When it comes to indoor air quality, carbon dioxide (CO2) in particular has a significant effect on cognitive capabilities. Productivity, comfort, and mental well-being, though not on physical health. Despite its contributions to air pollution and climate change, CO2 isn’t considered to be a pollutant as it is a gas that naturally occurs in our atmosphere and is essential for life. Its ability to trap heat and keep the earth’s surface warm as a greenhouse gas (GHG) is what makes the planet habitable.

How do air pollutants affect mental health?

Research regarding the neurological effects of air pollution found increased brain inflammation resulting from PM exposure. Increased levels of cytokines, molecules that regulate the body’s inflammatory response, are correlated with anxiety and depression. Long-term neuroinflammation is also a factor in many central nervous system disorders like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.


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How can the effects of air pollution on mental health be mitigated?

There are ways you can do to handle your mental health, such as:

  • Managing stress through meditation, yoga, journaling
  • Adjusting diet and exercising
  • Getting enough sleep and sunlight
  • Seeking therapy

While air pollution is not the sole factor in causing mental health disorders, its role cannot be denied. Protect yourself by checking the air quality index (AQI) of your neighborhood daily, so that you can take appropriate measures to protect yourself from air pollution. At Breeze Technologies, we have an Air Quality Citizen Portal, free for viewing online, for this very purpose. Long-term improvements to air quality require government action, of which you can lobby for. In the meantime, here are 10 things you can do to improve air quality in your city. Let’s all do our part to clear the air.

Depression is both common and serious, according to the American Psychiatric Association (APA). This medical illness strikes approximately 16 million Americans every year. The APA believes there are a number of factors contributing to the development of depression, including biochemistry, genetics, personality, and environmental factors such as exposure to violence, neglect, abuse, or poverty.

Symptoms of depression include:

  • Feeling sad or depressed
  • Loss of interest in life
  • Loss of appetite
  • Changes in appetite
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Medication and psychotherapy are among the most common approaches.

Research on air quality and depression

Air pollution also appears to play a role in depression, though scientists are still trying to clarify the link.

In one leading study, researchers at the Ohio State University exposed mice to either polluted air or filtered air for six hours a day, five days a week for 10 months.

In one of the experiments, mice exposed to the polluted air showed more depression-like behaviors than the group breathing filtered air. When they examined the brains of the mice exposed to polluted air, they found that area of the brain called the hippocampus had developed differently from the mice breathing clean air. The hippocampus is associated with learning, memory, and depression. Other studies of mice have reported that long-term exposure to pollution leads to widespread inflammation, including inflammation of the hippocampus.

A separate study at Columbia University found that children exposed in utero to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are more likely to suffer from a variety of mental health issues, including anxiety and depression. PAHs are a group of chemicals that are the byproduct of burning coal, gasoline, trash, and other sources.

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What you can do

If you are concerned about the effect of air pollution on your mental health or those you live with, it only makes sense to take action to lessen your exposure to airborne particles. Here are a few steps you can take to avoid negative mental health impacts caused by air pollution:

  1. Don’t allow smoking at home. Environmental Tobacco Smoke is a major source of indoor air pollution, including fine and ultrafine particles. Tobacco smoke also contains 4,000 chemicals in addition to fine and ultrafine particles.
  2. Close windows or doors when outdoor particle levels are high. If you live near a busy roadway, this is especially important during morning and evening rush hours. To check the current state of the air where you live.
  3. Air cleaning. If you live in an area with high levels of particle pollution, one of the most significant steps you can take to lessen your exposure to pollution is to use a high-efficiency air cleaner, according to the U.S., Environmental Protection Agency. This is especially important when fine particle pollution levels are extremely high.

These are just a few of the ways to reduce exposure to particle pollutants indoors. There are also steps you can take to reduce your exposure to pollutants when you are outdoors. For more information, read the following publications from the EPA.

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