High air pollution leads to 70 percent more serious mental illnesses
The constantly increasing air pollution in our cities leads to various negative effects on human health. Researchers have now found that air pollution in young people significantly increases the likelihood of psychotic experiences.
A recent study by King's College London found that increased air pollution in young people increases the risk of psychotic symptoms such as hearing voices or intense paranoia. The results of the investigation were published in the English language journal "Jama Psychiatry".
Young people are particularly at risk
The researchers analyzed the experiences of more than 2,000 participants aged 17 in England and Wales. They found that people in places with higher levels of nitrogen oxide were 70 percent more likely to experience symptoms such as hearing voices or intense paranoia. It was already known that people growing up in cities have more psychotic experiences than people living outside of metropolitan areas. The new research suggests that toxic substances in the air could be a possible reason for these effects. However, the type of studies performed has not been shown to be causally related, and other factors such as noise may also play an important role.
Which factors still affect the psyche of adolescents?
Psychotic experiences occur much more often in adolescents than in adults. When people experience such symptoms at a young age, they are more likely to develop serious mental illnesses. With so many people living in cities around the world, it is particularly important to uncover the reasons for mental illness in urban centers. The current study also considered other possible causes of psychotic experiences, such as smoking, alcohol and cannabis use, family income, and psychiatric history. The researchers suspect that around 60 percent of the connection between urban life and psychotic experiences could be explained by nitrogen oxides. Other important factors could be genetic vulnerability and crime experienced.
Nitrogen oxides often come from diesel vehicles
The majority of nitrogen oxides come from diesel vehicles and are at an illegal level in most UK cities. The government has already lost three times to the Supreme Court because it doesn't reduce pollution quickly enough. Research links air pollution to an increasing number of diseases, including reduced intelligence, dementia, and depression, while other research has shown that air pollution can also affect the brain. Children and adolescents are particularly susceptible to air pollution. This is due to their young developing brain and respiratory system.
Urban air was particularly harmful to teenagers
The current study combined data on air pollution and psychotic experiences reported by adolescents in private conversations. A third of the young people lived in urban areas, a fifth lived in rural areas and the rest in suburbs. Overall, 30 percent of teenagers reported at least one psychotic experience, a rate that was considered quite normal for teenagers. However, psychotic experiences were significantly more common among adolescents who lived in the 25 percent of the most polluted areas. In areas with the highest concentrations of nitrogen oxides, there were twelve teenagers who reported psychotic experiences, for every 20 teenagers who had no such experiences. In areas with lower air pollution, on the other hand, there were only seven adolescents who reported psychotic experiences, for every 20 adolescents who had no psychological problems.
More research is needed
The researchers also found a connection to the pollution caused by so-called fine dust particles, with psychotic experiences occurring 45 percent more frequently among adolescents who were exposed to higher concentrations. While the current study provides good evidence, further research is needed to verify the results. The study makes a valuable contribution to the growing body of evidence that air pollution can affect more than just the health of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.
Health authorities urgently need to take countermeasures
People living in cities are exposed to high concentrations of toxic particles every day. This study confirms that air pollution can have devastating and far-reaching consequences for physical and mental health. Health authorities should respond to this risk and take countermeasures as soon as possible. The research team concluded that guidelines are urgently needed to reduce vehicles on our roads and replace them with affordable, sustainable and accessible public transport. (as)