Air-Pollution affecting more than just our environment; Children’s mental health at risk


     With mental health problems continuing to be more prevalent in today’s society, researchers are seeking answers. Recently, a 25-year-long joint British/American study linked childhood air pollution to high rates of depression. 

     Researchers studied 2,039 children born in England and Wales during 1994 to 1995, whose mental health was assessed at age 18. “These results collectively suggest that youths persistently exposed to moderate levels of nitrogen oxide air pollution may experience greater overall liability to psychiatric illness by young adulthood”, Dr. Helen Fisher, the study’s co-author concluded.

     According to ScienceDaily, Fisher was the principal investigator of the study at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London, which also involved Duke University in the U.S.

     Fisher also explains that the link between air pollution and risk of mental illness is “modest but real.” She says the association was also “a liability independent of other individual, family and neighbourhood influences on mental health”, such as poverty and family history of a mental disorder.

     “Participants’ mental health was measured when they were 18 using an assessment of symptoms for ten common psychiatric disorders, such as ADHD, anxiety and alcohol dependence,” ScienceDaily reports. This was used to calculate a measure of their mental health called the psychopathology factor or p-factor. Those with a higher p-factor score showed more of those symptoms.

      Junior Elaina Huffman strongly believes in the dangerous effects of air pollution. “Since those kids are breathing in more and more dirty air, that dirty air is transported all throughout the body, including the brain which can affect their cognitive processing,” she explains. Huffman says that impaired cognitive processing can lead to depression since normal brain function is disrupted. 

     Researchers discovered that those who had the highest exposure to nitrogen oxides scored 2.62 points higher on the general psychopathology score than their peers in the bottom three quartiles. ScienceDaily explains that those exposed to the most “particulate matter scored 2.04 points more than their peers.”

   Deputy Chief Executive of the Centre for Mental Health Thinktank, Andy Bell, comments, “We know from research that our mental health is determined by the lives we lead, the environments we’re in and our experiences from our early years onwards.” He says a child’s mental health is influenced by many factors, including their home, school, community and neighborhood.

    “We know that poverty, racism, trauma and exclusion are major risks to mental health. As today’s research shows, our physical environment matters too, and making places safer, cleaner and healthier to live in will have lifelong benefits,” Bell shares.