Air pollution doesn’t just cause physical illness – it could also harm mental health


Over the past few weeks, the air quality in Delhi has been extremely toxic. Again on Wednesday, he was in the “very mediocre” category. This is not a new problem. Every winter, North India faces very high levels of air pollution, compounded by poor air quality throughout the rest of the year.

It is therefore not surprising that 22 of the 30 most polluted cities in the world are in India. In India, ambient air pollution is the fourth leading cause of death, after systolic high blood pressure, high fasting blood sugar and smoking. It is responsible for 0.98 million premature deaths each year in the country.

However, air pollution does not only affect individuals physically. The psychological implications of air pollution cannot be underestimated. In recent years, studies of the numbers in several parts of the world have confirmed this.

Impaired judgment

In 2020, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology systematically reviewed and reviewed 178 published scientific papers to show that air pollution reduces people’s happiness and life satisfaction.

Another study, published in 2018 in a journal called The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America found that long-term exposure to air pollution directly impairs attention, memory, math abilities, verbal and nonverbal intelligence, and quality of decision-making. This deficiency has indirect negative consequences on a wide range of activities.

For example, a study in the United States published in 2018 in the Journal of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists shows that in the event of high levels of carbon monoxide and PM 2.5, or particles with a diameter of 2.5 microns or less, professional baseball umpires are more likely to make incorrect calls and investors are more likely to sell winning assets while retaining failing assets.

Many researchers also believe that air pollution can increase the severity of existing mental disorders. Several disorders are likely to be aggravated by air pollution. A 2017 National Social Life, Health and Aging Project study in the United States found that an increase in PM 2.5 is significantly associated with depressive and anxiety symptoms.

In addition, results from a national cohort study in Denmark published in The Lancet in 2020 shows that higher air pollution (nitrogen dioxide or NO2 and nitric oxide or NOX) during childhood is associated with an increased risk of later schizophrenia in later years.

Scientists from the University of Southern California observed in their study published in JAMA Psychiatry in 2013 that exposure to nitrogen dioxide, PM 2.5 and PM 10 during pregnancy and the first year of life could lead to autism.

Air pollution has also been identified as increasing the risk of many neurological disorders. A study in Taiwan published in International Journal of the Environment in 2019 noticed a positive relationship between nitrogen dioxide pollution and vascular dementia. A 2019 study in the Medical Research Journal Archives
has shown that long-term exposure to air pollution is directly linked to Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis, among others.

Existential anxiety

Additionally, as people become aware of the impact of poor air quality on health, it can lead to a growing sense of existential anxiety, according to a Columbia University study published in Psychological sciences in 2018, after analyzing a nine-year panel of 9,360 US cities.

Air pollution is also hampering the economy, as people in academia and work show reduced performance and absenteeism indicated by a study published in Air quality, atmosphere and health. However, this impact is not equal, given the differentiation of wealth and resources. Air pollution has a relatively greater impact on middle- and low-income groups, women, and the rural-urban population, according to a 2020 study by Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology, published in Environmental Science and Pollution Research.

The risk of “environmental injustice” is of concern, as high-income people have access to expensive products and solutions that allow them to cope with the effects of air pollution.

Children are the most affected, being very vulnerable due to their immature immune systems and their participation in many outdoor physical activities. It has been found that prenatal exposure to air pollution not only affects the developing brain of the fetus, but also delays the developmental process itself and leads to problems such as obsessive thoughts, aggressive behavior and a lack of adaptive capacity, as indicated by a study published in Cognitive and behavioral neurology by the Medical University of Lublin, Poland.

Another recent study by Gautam Buddha University on the behavior of schoolchildren in Greater Noida analyzed cases of children exposed to air pollution who apparently could not concentrate on a particular task for long. They were restless and described issues such as addiction, confusion, crying, disobedience, appetite problems, among others.

A 2010 study by the Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati, examined a sample of 1,819 Indian school children (9-17 years old) and found that exposure to PM 10 increased the risks of developing a disorder. hyperactivity with attention deficit.

It is imperative that further studies be conducted in India. In areas with high levels of air pollution, efforts should be made for early detection and treatment. with a focus on high-risk groups.

In December, the Delhi government closed schools due to high levels of air pollution. However, these solutions are temporary. We need preventive and long-term mitigation strategies. After all, a reduction in pollution levels not only helps to reduce the risk of physical and mental disorders, but also improves the general well-being of society.

Arushi Jindal is an independent researcher working in the field of community psychology. Ajay Singh Nagpure is Air Quality Program Manager at World Resources Institute India.


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