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What is air pollution and what are the effects of air pollution on mental health?

Most people experience physical health symptoms of cough, irritation, sneezing and respiratory issues due to air pollution. But have you wondered if our Mental health can be affected due to air pollution as well? A mental health disorder interferes with daily functioning, thinking, interpersonal relationships, anxiety and other issues.

We can see and say that this food is dirty and this water is not clean with the naked eye but when it comes to air pollution we cannot find it easily. And every day we breathe 22000 times. Particulate matter enter our bodies and cause serious health problems. 


It is not only the dust smog in the atmosphere that harms our health physically. There are Particulate matter of micron size which can’t be seen through our naked eyes that have harmful mental health effects on human beings. And since we are breathing it in daily, 24/7, it is going to affect our lungs, our heart, and our mental health and can lead to increased cancer risk. 


Where are these pollutants coming from?

They can be produced naturally, such as through forest fires and volcanoes that can produce these pollutants. But also some stationary sources such as industries, factories, etc., and mobile sources such as cars, and buses. And so if they are affecting us negatively we call these pollutants.

The two main categories of air pollutants are primary and secondary. Burning fossil fuels is the primary source of most air pollution. Some originate from burning forests. Some are brought on by the evaporation of substances. 

Before going further into what are the effects of air pollution in mental health, let’s know about what are the various sources of air pollution.

Types of air pollution:-

  • Primary pollutant:

Chemicals that are released directly from a specific source are considered primary pollutants. This indicates that these air pollutants are directly eliminated from the atmosphere as byproducts of the indicated source, leading to immediate changes in the air’s quality. Due to the difficulty of their presence in the air, these polluting chemicals may be harmful to human life. Due to the changes, it can bring about within the body, this can also have a direct impact on people’s lungs.

They are directly emitted, which is why they are referred to as primary pollutants.

Primary pollutants directly enter the air, volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, lead, etc are examples of primary pollutants. 

  • Secondary pollutant: 

Primary pollutants combine with other chemicals in the atmosphere and produce secondary pollutants. Nitrogen Oxide can produce nitric acid, sulfur dioxide can produce sulfuric acid and these combined can produce acid rain or more generally acid deposition that has a huge impact on life. 

One of the pollutants that you are most familiar with is ozone which can be produced through the sun, nitrogen dioxide is also required to produce that. And when we combine a lot of these then we have smog. It is probably the most famous type of air pollution. All of these have an adverse effect on the ecosystem; hence it is urgent to stop their spread. There are many different elements in the air, and when it is contaminated, the body suffers the same level of harm from the exchange of gases.

What are the effect of air pollution on mental health:

Particles with a diameter of 2.5 microns or less are particularly dangerous because they can easily enter the bloodstream and go through the body to the brain. Carbon Monoxide, Sulphur Oxides (SOx), and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx), in addition to PM 2.5 and below, can irritate blood vessels and result in neuro-inflammation by rupturing the blood-brain barrier, a thin and sensitive membrane that shields the brain from toxins. Anxiety, sadness, Impulsive Control Disorder (ICD), Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder can all be brought on by toxic compounds in the brain.

  1. Depression: Depression is one of the most common mental disorders which can be seen in elder person and increase the mortality rate. Air pollution causes depression by depleting the level of dopamine (the feel-good hormone) in the central nervous system.
  2. Anxiety: It is discovered that more recent exposure to PM2.5 is connected with a higher incidence of anxiety symptoms.
  3. Affect mental health of children: There may be evidence of impaired mental development in children born to mothers who had high levels of air pollution during pregnancy. High levels of prenatal exposure to air pollutants have been linked to a variety of health effects on children. 
  4. Alzheimer’s disease: Alzheimer’s disease is a brain condition that gradually destroys people of their memory, thinking abilities, and finally, the capacity to complete even the most basic tasks. The late-onset form of symptoms often initially occurs in the mid-60s in the majority of disease sufferers. Between the ages of 30 and 60, early-onset Alzheimer’s is a fairly uncommon condition. The most frequent cause of dementia in elderly people is Alzheimer’s disease. An increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease is linked to exposure to air pollution.
  5. Bipolar disorder: Severe mood, behaviour, energy, and sleeping pattern swings are symptoms of this disease. The swings range from manic highs, characterized by high levels of energy, a decreased need for sleep, and increased motivation, to depressive lows, characterized by a lack of motivation, low levels of energy, and, in some cases, suicidal thoughts.

Conclusion: Mental health may be seriously affected by air pollution that causes blood vessel inflammation and harm to the blood-brain barrier, a thin and sensitive membrane that shields the brain from hazardous substances. Some effects of air pollution on mental health include anxiety, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.

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