Air Pollution Linked to Bipolar Disorder and Major Depression, Research Reveals

Bonnie Evie Gifford
By Bonnie Evie Gifford,
updated on Aug 21, 2019

Air Pollution Linked to Bipolar Disorder and Major Depression, Research Reveals

New research has revealed that countries with the worst air quality have a 27% increase in bipolar disorder and 6% higher numbers of major depression

Growing up in areas with high air pollution can result in a higher likelihood of developing depression or bipolar disorder in later life, according to new research.

The latest in a number of studies linking air quality to ill health, researchers analysed health data from millions of patients across the USA and Denmark. A ‘significant link’ is believed to have been discovered between exposure to air pollution (particularly during childhood) and mental health disorders, according to scientists at the University of Chicago.

Scientists looked at an American health insurance database of 151 million people, across 11 years of patient claims for neuropsychiatric diseases. These claims were then compared to measurements of 87 potential air pollutants. Results revealed that those from the countries with the worst air quality has a 27% increase in cases of bipolar disorder and 6% higher number of cases of major depression compared with countries with the best air quality. Researchers went on to use the same methodology with data from 1.4 million patients from Denmark to help validate their findings.

Researchers at Arhus University, Denmark, found that those living in areas with poor air quality before the age of 10 saw a 29% increase in mental health disorders. Higher rates of personality disorder, bipolar disorder, and depression were also found amongst Danish patients.

The study, published in PLOS Biology, sought to identify if air pollution may affect the prevalence of six conditions (four psychiatric and two neurological). Critics of the study have highlighted that other environmental factors, such as population density and diminished access to green spaces were not taken into account.

Previous studies have linked air quality to a wide range of conditions including heart disease, cancer, and asthma, as well as brain, lung, and nasal damage. In March of this year, a study from King’s College London found that teenagers in the UK’s most polluted areas were more likely to have psychotic experiences, in what mental health charity MQ said was research that could provide a starting point to explore possible links between pollution and psychosis.

A similar study looked at the links between Swedish children, air pollution, and psychiatric disorders. Further research published in January 2019 revealed that children growing up in the most polluted areas of London are more likely to experience depression by the age of 18 than those growing up in areas with cleaner air.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 4.2 million premature deaths each year are the result of air pollution. 91% of the world’s population currently live in places where the air quality exceeds WHO guidelines.

Air pollution is currently thought to be linked with heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, and acute respiratory infections in children. Ambient air pollution, according to WHO, accounts for:

  • 43% of deaths and disease from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • 29% of deaths and disease from lung cancer
  • 25% of deaths and disease from ischaemic heart disease
  • 24% of all deaths from stroke
  • 17% of all healths and disease from acute lower respiratory infection

Together with the Climate & Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), WHO has created the BreatheLife campaign to encourage cities and individuals to protect their health and the planet from the effects of air pollution.

While research has begun showing links between increased likelihood to experience ill mental health and pollution, experts have warned that existing studies on the subject are still relatively few, with many having methodological issues that future studies may need to address before stronger conclusions can be drawn.

If eco-anxiety is causing you concern, it could be worth speaking with an expert. Visit Counselling Directory to speak with an experienced anxiety therapist, or use the search bar below to discover a counsellor near you.

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