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Is air pollution affecting people’s mental health?

Air pollution is becoming a major health concern as it can be linked to conditions such as asthma, dementia and cancer.

However, research published earlier this year suggests poor air quality could lead to poor mental health. 

Researchers from the University of Chicago studied the relationship between air quality and mental health in Denmark and the US. 


The researchers split the 3,142 counties in the US into 7 groups from most to least polluted using data from 2000 to 2005. Air quality levels were determined by recorder air pollution, water pollution, land quality and quality of the built environment including the amount of traffic. 

Using medical records from 2003 to 2013, they looked at 151 million people in the US, comparing pollution levels to the number of those who suffer from bipolar, depression, schizophrenia, personality disorder, epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease. 

Other factors that were taken into consideration include age, gender, ethnicity, average income and typical weather.


The study also looked at 1.4 million in Denmark who were born between 1979 and 2002 who still lived in Denmark at age 10. 

The researchers averaged how much air pollution each person would have been exposed to by age 10, dividing the population into 7 groups from those who experienced the lowest pollution levels to those who experienced the most. 

They then looked at whether those who were exposed to more air pollution by age 10 were more likely to develop mental health issues. 

The results

Published in the PLOS Biology journal, the research suggests counties in the US with higher air pollution levels had 27% more people with bipolar disorder than those with the lowest amount. Counties with the highest levels of air pollution also had a small increase in depression rates (6%). Other factors such as ethnicity, the density of population, land pollution and urban living were also linked to poor mental health. 

In Denmark, all 4 mental health conditions studied were seen at higher rates in areas with higher pollution: schizophrenia 148%, bipolar 24.3%, personality disorder 162% and depression 50.5%. However, social and economic factors have not been considered with these statistics.