Air pollution significantly increases the risk of mental illness

Air pollution significantly increases the risk of mental illness

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How does polluted air affect our psyche?

There is a significant correlation between childhood pollution and the development of mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and depression later in life.

The University of Chicago's recent investigation found that there is a strong link between pollution from childhood and later development of mental illness. The results of the study were published in the English language journal "PLoS Biology".

27 percent higher risk of depression from polluted air

Much is already known about the dangers of air pollution to our physical health, and there is growing evidence that air pollution can harm the human brain. For the current study, the researchers used information from the US health insurance database of 151 million people. They then compared the locations of the information with measurements of 87 potential air pollutants from the United States Environmental Protection Agency. For example, they found that the US with the poorest air quality was 27 percent more likely to experience bipolar disorder and 6 percent more depressed than the state with the best air quality.

Study continued in Denmark

The knowledge gained in the USA was unusually clear, so the research group decided to apply the method to another country. They chose Denmark. It finally analyzed the data from 1.4 million people born in Denmark between 1979 and 2002. The researchers examined the incidence of mental illness in Danish adults who had lived in areas with poor environmental quality until their tenth birthday. The results, particularly for bipolar disorder, reflect those in the United States and show a 29 percent increase for people in areas with the poorest air quality.

Children are particularly at risk

Using this more specific Danish data, the team found that early childhood stress was even more associated with severe depression (an increase of 50 percent), schizophrenia (an increase of 148 percent), and personality disorders (an increase of 162 percent) with people who grew up in areas with the best air quality.

We have to improve air quality

The question of how air pollution can trigger mental illness was not addressed in the study. A large number of animal experiments indicate that pollutants influence the neuroinflammatory pathways and create the conditions for neurological development problems in later life. The effects of air pollution on our physical health have long been recognized and the new research confirms that improving air quality would benefit both our mental and physical health. (as)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Atif Khan, Oleguer Plana-Ripoll, Sussie Antonsen, Jørgen Brandt, Camilla Geels et al .: Environmental pollution is associated with increased risk of psychiatric disorders in the US and Denmark, in PLoS Biology (query: 22.08.2019), PLoS Biology

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