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What are the harmful mental health effects of air pollution?


Written by Zehnder Clean Air Solutions | 18.09.2020

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The damaging health effects of air pollution – from reduced life expectancy to increased risk of disease – are common knowledge. Unfortunately, poor air quality is a global crisis with the ➥ World Health Organisation estimating that 90% of people are exposed to polluted air. The link between pollution and the lungs is clear, but many other harmful effects are less well understood. First among them, according to a growing body of research, is mental health.

Scientists have suggested a link between air pollution and cognitive functioning, mental health, and a person’s chances of developing illnesses such as dementia. This is concerning, especially as it further disadvantages people in developing countries who are most frequently exposed to unclean air. In this blog, we’ll look into the link between air pollution and mental health, as well as what can be done to reduce these harmful effects.

Air pollution and mental health

More than 300 million people worldwide are affected by mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety, according to the US National Institutes of Health (NIH), and this number is increasing every year. The NIH has also found that depression is explicitly one of the leading causes of lost years of healthy life and is expected to be in the top three causes globally by 2030. Researchers are rushing to find the causes of this dangerous increase in the prevalence of mental health issues, and air pollution has shown up as one potential culprit.

The link between air quality and mental health

  • ➥ Szyszkowicz et al. discovered a correlation between particulate matter in the air and mental health in 2009.
  • Research using ➥ Chinese data in 2018 found that every standard deviation increase in particulate matter over PM2.5 increases the likelihood of experiencing mental illness by 6.67 % – a strong correlation.
  • ➥ MohanKumar et al. suggested two reasons that pollution may affect mental health: inflammation and oxidative stress.
  • ➥ Vert et al. identified a relationship between nitric oxide concentration and depression.
Man looking desperate holding his head

At this point, it is clear that the mental health effects of air pollution must be taken seriously.

In 2019, Khan et al. conducted a comprehensive overview of data from the US and Denmark comparing the incidence of mental health issues against air quality. People living in an area with poor air quality have a

50 %

higher chance of experiencing depression

29 %

higher chance of experiencing bipolar

174 %

higher chance of experiencing schizophrenia


higher chance of experiencing personality disorder


Increase in suicide risk

The importance of clean air

When many people imagine air pollution, they visualise large clouds of dark smoke outdoors. In reality, however, indoor air pollution can be equally or even more damaging than outdoor pollution. Particulate matter is predominantly common in workplaces with insufficient ventilation. There’s no excuse for exposing employees to an increased chance of mental health issues, but fortunately, there are steps that businesses can take.

Clean air isn’t the entire mental health equation – it’s still important to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle – but it is a significant one which employers have direct control over. Show your employees that you recognise the importance of clean air by working with Zehnder Clean Air Solutions to design a custom solution for your needs. Our advanced air cleaning units capture dust and particles at the source, so they never have the chance to harm employees.

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