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“We need a respectful, mutual listening, free of ideology and predetermined agendas.” Pope Francis, Let us Dream, December 2020

Air quality linked to poor mental health

The director of a Catholic mental health project has insisted that “a proactive public health strategy” is needed after a new study found depression and bipolar disorder could be linked to poor air quality.

Research led by the University of Chicago and based on analysis of data from the United States and Denmark suggests a ‘significant link’ between pollution and mental health disorders in the two countries.

The study, which is the latest to link poor air quality with ill health, used a US health insurance database of 151 million people with 11 years of inpatient and outpatient claims for neuropsychiatric diseases.

Researchers then compared the ‘geo-incidents’ of claims to measurements of 87 potential air pollutants.

The study, published in PloS Biology, found that countries with the worst air quality had a 27 per cent increase in bipolar disorder and a six per cent increase in major depression when compared with those with the best air quality.

The UChicago team applied the same methodology to data from Denmark to validate its findings, where they found a 29 per cent increase in mental health disorders for people living with the worst air quality.

The team also found that early childhood exposure correlated even more strongly with major depression, schizophrenia, and personality disorders over individuals who grew up in areas with the highest quality air.

Ben Bano, director of Welcome Me as I Am, which promotes mental health awareness in parish communities, said the findings that poor air quality and poor mental health are linked is not surprising.

“This research shows that poor air quality combined with poor environment and other social factors which lead to mental illness and poor mental health need to be addressed by a proactive public health strategy,” he told The Catholic Universe.

Computational biologist Atif Khan, first author of the study, said: “Our studies show that living in polluted areas, especially early in life, is predictive of mental disorders.”

Dr Daniel Maughan, associate registrar for sustainability at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said the study built on the “increasing evidence” of a link between air pollution and the development of mental illness.

While the study does not show that air pollution causes mental illness, it “suggests” a “strong link” exists between early exposure and an increased risk of developing mental ill-health.

Dr Maughan added: “However, there are many environmental factors which could contribute to poor mental health for those people living in areas of high pollution – such as population density and diminished access to green spaces.”

Picture: File photo dated 02/04/14 of dust particles and pollution from cars hanging over Birmingham. (Joe Giddens/PA).