Posted on Sep 26, 2019, 5 p.m.
Three studies have linked air pollution to serious mental health issues in children; smog induced feelings of anxiety and suicidal thoughts are more prevalent in children living in poorer neighbourhoods.
It’s no secret that exposure to polluted air/smog can result in a number of physical health problems as there have been numerous studies to associate smog and polluted air with increased rates of depression and anxiety. Three studies conducted by Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in collaboration with the University of Cincinnati have added to the body of evidence and have found that exposure to air pollution may be especially detrimental to children’s mental health.
The first study published in Environmental Health Perspectives found short term exposure to air pollution to result in an exacerbation of symptoms 1-2 days later among children already suffering with mental health issues; and children living in poorer neighbourhoods were found to be more susceptible to smog induced feeling of anxiety and suicidal thoughts compared to those in better areas. This conclusion was made after observing increased activity in the children’s psychiatric emergency department following periods of elevated air pollution in the area.
“This study is the first to show an association between daily outdoor air pollution levels and increased symptoms of psychiatric disorders, like anxiety and suicidality, in children,” says Dr. Cole Brokamp, the study’s lead author, in a release. “More research is needed to confirm these findings, but it could lead to new prevention strategies for children experiencing symptoms related to a psychiatric disorder. The fact that children living in high poverty neighborhoods experienced greater health effects of air pollution could mean that pollutant and neighborhood stressors can have synergistic effects on psychiatric symptom severity and frequency.”
A connection between children recently exposed to traffic related air pollution and more intense feelings of generalized anxiety was made in a second study published in Environmental Research utilizing neuro-imaging to capture TRAP exposure and the subsequent metabolic disturbances, and resulting anxiety symptoms; elevated levels of myoinositol were found in the children’s brains, which is a sign of neuro-inflammatory reaction to TRAP exposure.
The third study published in Environmental Research built off the second and discovered that prolonged exposure to TRAP during childhood was associated with self diagnosed bouts of anxiety and depression among 12 year olds, which supports prior studies coming to similar conclusions among adults.
“Collectively, these studies contribute to the growing body of evidence that exposure to air pollution during early life and childhood may contribute to depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems in adolescence,” comments Dr. Patrick Ryan, a lead author on the first and third study. “More research is needed to replicate these findings and uncover underlying mechanisms for these associations.”
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