Does Air Pollution Amplify Risk for Anxiety and Depression?

Learn more about the known physical and mental health effects poor indoor air quality can have on building occupants.

Indoor and environmental air pollution is terrible for our health. Studies suggest that increased exposure to air pollution has been linked to lung health issues, including asthma, COPD, cardiovascular disease, and, most recently, lung cancer.

But what, if any, effect does it have on our mental health? Increased air pollution may impact our mental health in some way. Can bad air quality cause anxiety or depression?

Air Pollution and Mental Health

Poor air quality and air pollution have known effects on our physical health. And there is growing evidence to suggest that poor air pollution is also associated with poor mental health.

Studies show that even brief exposure to higher than average PM can significantly impact mental illness, which can be even more damaging to individuals sensitive to developmental issues or decreased cognitive function. Long-term exposure to air pollution may be linked to a 17% rise in cases of bipolar disorder, a 6% increase in depression diagnoses, and a 20% increase in personality disorder diagnoses.

Air pollution is defined as air with a certain level of airborne contaminants, which means that the air has more fine particle matter, also known as PM2.5.

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How Does Pollution Affect Mental Health?

How exactly does air pollution affect mental health? Studies suggest that air pollution can impair cognitive function, cause depression, and impact childhood development.

Air Quality and Childhood Development

Extreme cases of mental health symptoms purportedly linked air pollution exposure greater than PM2.5 to sending children to the emergency room for psychiatric evaluation.

This 2019 study looked at short-term exposure to PM2.5 in 6,800 children who recorded symptoms of behavioral and adjustment disorder (i.e., intense stress, sadness, and anxiety triggered by a major life event). The study determined that short-term increases in PM2.5 with short exposure may have been responsible for these symptoms.

Air Quality and Anxiety

PM over 2.5 is suggested to worsen existing inflammation in the brain caused by everyday stressors that result in mental health symptoms. A 2016 review article in Psychopharmacology specifically looked at the role of brain cells called microglia due to their documented inflammation in response to life changes, social isolation, and bullying.

Increased microglial inflammation due to stress is potentially linked to an increased risk of a mental disorder later in life, including anxiety symptoms and depressive-like episodes.

Stress In Workplace Experienced By Poor Indoor Air Quality

Air Pollution and Depression

Researchers suggest that the link between air pollutants and depression cannot be ignored. Data from China (2018) found that a rise in the particulate matter for even a small amount over the average of PM2.5 (approximately one standard deviation) contributed to an increased likelihood of mental health, including depression, by 6.67%.

Others suggest that particulate matter induces inflammation and oxidative stress in the brain, which can manifest in depression. A cross-sectional study found that the rate of depression was two times higher for each 10 μg/m3 increase in the level of nitric oxide. The same link was found in emergency visits, which reported a 7.2% increase in depressive episodes for every 19.4 μg/m3 of PM10 concentration.

What to Do About Air Pollution and its Risk on Mental Health

Naturally, these statistics can be eye-opening, especially since not many are aware of indoor air pollution in their cities. Most American cities are a high risk for air pollution, and indoor occupants are at a 2 to 5 times higher risk of high PM levels. And the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that over 90% of children worldwide breathe toxic air, polluted air at levels considered detrimental to health and development.

While not much can be done for outdoor air pollution or climate change, other than moving to a new city or lobbying for more strict environmental laws, we can manage indoor air pollution to improve mental health, especially since most Americans spend upwards of 90% of their days indoors.

For office managers, business owners, restaurant owners, and public health officials, it's essential to do everything you can to improve the indoor air quality for occupant health. If you notice any signs of poor air, then you should consider air purifiers.

Air purification devices are the best defense against PM2.5, or greater and will bring fresh air at regular intervals. These devices can be plugged into a general wall outlet or installed as an HVAC in-duct air purification device. You can also get roaming UV-C robots for disinfecting rooms of viruses and bacteria, a necessity during the COVID pandemic and reducing the impacts of seasonal flu and illnesses on occupants.

Air purifiers are affordable, portable, and effective, meaning you can reduce the risk of mental health illnesses, anxiety, and depression due to poor indoor air pollution right now. These devices can help offices drastically increase well-being, productivity, and occupant health. Reach out today to Sanalife to see how an air purifier can support your indoor space.

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