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Air pollution linked to depression and suicide risk in study


(Newsweek) – Exposure to air pollution has been linked to an increased risk of suicide and depression in a study.

Researchers reviewed nine existing studies on 16 countries, which examined the potential link between air pollution and depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, psychosis and suicide. The sample sizes in the studies ranged from 958 to 69,966 participants.

The researchers found a link between being in contact with PM2.5—or particulate matter measuring up to 2.5 micrometers in diameter—for at least six months. To give an idea of the size, human hair measures between 40 to 120 micrometers. The researchers defined this as long-term exposure. A 10 microgram per metre cubed spike in the average level of long-term PM 2.5 was linked with a 10 percent increase in the likelihood of experiencing depression.

They also found an association between short-term exposure to PM 10—or particulate matter measuring up to 10 micrometers in diameter—and suicide. The risk of suicide rose by 2 percent for each 10 microgram per metre cubed increase of PM10 over the course of three days.

Sources of PM 10 and 2.5 include fossil-fuel-powered cars, dust from industrial activities, and wood burning and forest fires.

More research is needed to confirm whether pollution causes poor mental health, the authors wrote in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

Co-author Isobel Braithwaite of the UCL Psychiatry and UCL Institute of Health Informatics departments told Newsweek if proven, this link could “potentially be affecting millions of people.”

Depression affects more than 260 million people worldwide, she highlighted, and around 90 percent of people worldwide breathe air pollution levels above World Health Organization guidelines.

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