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Study Reveals Connections between Mental Illness and Air Pollution in the UK

Researchers studied the prevalence of depression and anxiety in over 500,000 UK adults over 11 years

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UNITED KINGDOM: According to a study investigating the connections between air quality and mental illness, prolonged exposure to even relatively modest levels of air pollution may result in despair and anxiety.

Researchers studied the prevalence of depression and anxiety in over 500,000 UK adults over 11 years. They discovered that even when air quality was below statutory limits, people who lived in places with greater pollution levels were more likely to experience episodes.

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In a paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry, researchers from the universities of Oxford, Beijing, and Imperial College London said that their findings showed the need for stricter rules or laws to control air pollution.

The findings come as the ministers are under fire for adopting new, legally binding standards for air quality that permit levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) that are more than twice as high as comparable WHO targets.

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This week, peers passed legislation allowing a maximum annual mean concentration of 12 micrograms per cubic metre by 2028. In September 2021, the WHO concluded a review of its 2005 air quality guidelines, lowering the limit for PM2.5 to five micrograms.

The researchers pointed out that while air pollution has long been linked to a number of respiratory diseases, a growing body of research points to a connection between air pollution and mental health issues. But the only study done on the likelihood of depression was done in places where air pollution levels were higher than the standards set by the UK.

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The researchers modelled and graded the air pollution, including PM2.5 and PM10, nitrogen dioxide, and nitric oxide, for the areas where they lived using the data of 389,185 people from the UK Biobank. Within a follow-up period of around 11 years, they discovered 13,131 cases of depression and 15,835 cases of anxiety in their group.

The researchers discovered that when air pollution rose, so did instances of anxiety and sadness. But the exposure-response curves were not straight lines. The slopes were steeper at lower levels and flattened out at higher levels, suggesting that chronic exposure to low pollution levels was just as likely to lead to a diagnosis as exposure to higher levels.

According to University of Leicester professor of environmental epidemiology Anna Hansell, who was not involved in the research, the study is another argument in favour of decreasing air pollution regulations.

Also Read: Decoding Mental Health with TCT: Methods for Destigmatizing ADHD in Workplace 

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