Air pollution leads to higher risk of needing psychiatric treatment

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Exclusive: research finds small rise in exposure to air pollution leads to higher risk of needing psychiatric treatment

Exposure to air pollution is linked to an increased severity of mental illness, according to a comprehensive study.

The research, involving 13,000 people in London, and published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, tracked patients in south London from their first contact with mental health services and used high-resolution estimates of air pollution at their homes. In particular, they measured levels of Fine particulate matter (PM2.5) which are 2.5 microns or less in diameter which is 25 times less than a human hair. This dangerous pollutant is inhaled into the lungs, gets into arteries and even the brain.

Recent research has shown that small increases in air pollution are linked to significant rises in depression and anxiety. It has also linked dirty air to increased suicides. Other research has found that air pollution causes a “huge” reduction in intelligence and is linked to dementia. A global review in 2019 concluded that air pollution may be damaging every organ in the human body.

The link was especially significant for PM2.5 pollution, which is produced by burning fossil fuels, and industrial air pollution from rubber tyre particles on roads, and ultra-fine dust. An increased exposure of 3 units of PM2.5 increased hospital admission risk by 11% and outpatient treatment risk by 7%.

Exposure to air pollution may inflict some of the earliest and most long-lasting damage on cognition and mental health, with damage starting as early as childhood.

A 2020 study in Toronto, Canada found a link between air pollution and emergency room (ER) visits for mental health symptoms.

Looking at 83,985 ER visits for people aged 8-24 from April 2004 to December 2015, researchers found that even very small increases in PM2.5, were associated with increased ER visits, sometimes as soon as 5 days after initial exposure to that increase.

Dubai’s PM2.5 levels are routinely 4-5 times higher than the World Health Organisation maximum safe level.

You and your children are exposed to this every day, at school and at home.

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