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Studies Find Air Pollution Is Also Psychologically Harmful

Two recent studies published in the medical journal JAMA found that being exposed to air pollution for extended periods of time increased the likelihood of developing depression.

On Friday, researchers at Johns Hopkins University released a study in JAMA Network Open that indicated senior people who were exposed to high levels of air pollution over time were more likely to develop depression later in life.

According to the second research, which appeared in JAMA Psychiatry, even little exposure to air pollution over time was linked to an elevated risk of developing mood disorders. Conditions of the heart and lungs have long been suspected to be exacerbated by polluted air.

There is mounting evidence that exposure to air pollution may negatively impact mental health, and these new research just add to that body of work. Scientists from Harvard and Emory University analyzed information from roughly nine million individuals enrolled in Medicare, the United States’ national health insurance program for those aged 65 and above. According to Medicare claims, more than 1.52 million people in the study population had a depressive disorder diagnosis between 2005 and 2016. Researchers used pollution maps and patient addresses from Medicare to determine correlations between the two.

Fine particulate matter, including dust or smoke, nitrogen dioxide, mostly from vehicle emissions, and ozone, primarily from vehicle, power plant, and refinery emissions were the contaminants they were subjected to. According to the study authors, the elderly’s already compromised respiratory and nervous systems make them more vulnerable to the mental health effects of pollution.

The second study looked at how long-term exposure to numerous air pollutants relates to the prevalence of sadness and anxiety in people from Britain and China. For 11 years, researchers tracked roughly 390,000 individuals, predominantly in Britain, and found that even at pollution levels below UK air quality guidelines, there was an elevated risk for sadness and anxiety.

Mary J. Payne
Mary has over 10 years of experience as a journalist. She loves to travel and write about her experiences, but she also covers topics such as education, career advice and finances.