How Can Air Quality Affect Your Mental Affect Yl Health

Posted by James Watson on November 28th, 2020


Maintaining your mental health is an integral part of living a happy, healthy, and balanced life. After all, the state of your mental health influences your thoughts, feelings, emotions, which means it plays a crucial role in almost every decision and daily interaction you take part in. 

Staggeringly, mental illnesses are reported to affect around 19% of adults, 46% of teenagers, and 13% of children each year. This translates to roughly 40 million adults in the USA alone. 

Many things contribute to poor mental health, including severe stress, social disadvantage, social isolation, lack of fitness and exercise, and poor dietary choices. However, it’s now believed that the air we breathe plays a significant role too.

In this article, we will take a look at how air pollution can directly influence your mental health and why you should take steps to improve indoor air quality where possible. Let’s get into it.

How air quality can affect mental health

The two most common mental health conditions in the United States are anxiety disorders and mood disorders, affecting approximately 18% and 10% of adults each year. These ailments are mostly described as physical illnesses in the brain that cause disturbances in thinking, behavior, energy, or emotion. While the causes of these diseases are difficult to pinpoint, it’s clear that air quality plays a pivotal role.

Before we look at the negative consequences of low air quality on mental health, we must first turn our attention to particulate matter (PM) and understand how it impacts our bodies.

What is particulate matter?

Particulate matter (also referred to as particle pollution) is a complex mixture of tiny particles or liquid droplets. It’s made up of components such as dust, dirt, smoke, and soot, all of which are possible to see with the naked human eye. However, some PM consists of tiny particles that are so small they can only be detected with an electron microscope. These particles are usually broken down into the following two categories, PM10 and PM2.5.

PM10 are inhalable particles that are 10 micrometers in diameters or less, where PM2.5 are inhalable particles that are 2.5 micrometers or less.

The problem with particulate matter is that  it’s so small it can be inhaled into the body with relative ease, entering the lungs and then bloodstream where it can cause damage to our bodies and subsequently our mental health, here’s how:

  • Linked to a rise in anxiety and depression

Several studies have shown prolonged PM2.5 exposure causes significant cognitive impairment, making it hard for people to learn new tasks. It also causes them to have less energy and willingness to attempt challenging activities and lose interest in simple pleasures. 

One study conducted on mice found that the mice who’d been exposed to PM2.5 air pollution had significantly more cytokines in their brains, which is known to cause inflammation, which is known to be one of the key contributors to anxiety and depression. 

  • Causes behavioral disorders and aggravates existing ones

Another study showed particulate matter to be closely linked to causing inflammation in the nervous system. This increases the risk of developing mental health issues such as low mood, anxiety and depression, bipolar, and various other illnesses.

In addition to this, low air quality is attributed to worsening existing mental health disorders as extensive exposure to PM2.5 causes significant damage to the limbic system.

  • Detrimental effects on children and adolescents 

As children’s and teenagers’ brains are still developing, exposure to low-quality air with PM10 or PM2.5 particles can have a significant detrimental effect on their development. As mentioned, PM causes inflammation to the brain and nervous system, causing children and teenagers to develop serious mental health issues that they will then carry through with them into later life. 

In some cases, it can weaken connections between certain brain areas, which permanently alters the way the brain functions. 

Indoor vs. outdoor air quality

The World Health Organization approximates around 3 million people die prematurely each year as a result of exposure to air pollution. However, contrary to what most people believe, indoor air quality plays a much more significant role in our mental health than outdoor air quality.

How so? Well, first of all, the average person spends around 90% of their time indoors. Secondly, some concentrations of pollutants are sometimes 2 to 5 times higher indoors than they are outside. This is typically down to a lack of ventilation and air filtration systems and an increased density of pollutants such as cleaning supplies, pesticides, tobacco, combustion byproducts, building materials, and allergens such as pet dander, dirt, and dust.

This is why it’s vital to take steps to improve indoor air quality where possible, especially in areas that are frequented by young children, those with existing mental health issues, and those who suffer from cardiovascular illnesses or asthma.

If you are concerned about your indoor air quality you should look to install a high-quality HVAC system that filters pollutants, bacteria, and allergens out of the air. This is why having air conditioning is linked with good mental health as it removes the harmful PM10 and PM2.5 particles from the air, which reduces the risk of inflammation to the brain and nervous system.


James Watson

About the Author

James Watson
Joined: November 28th, 2020
Articles Posted: 1

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