How does air pollution affect children?
When children grow up in areas with increased air pollution at a younger age, there is a significantly increased likelihood that affected people will develop severe depression at the age of 18.
In their latest study, the scientists at Kings College London found that younger children living in areas with high levels of air pollution have a significantly higher risk of developing depression at the age of 18. The doctors published the results of their study in the English-language journal "Psychiatry Research".
Many mental health problems start in adolescence or childhood
When analyzing how common air pollutants affect adolescent mental health, the researchers found that adolescents were three to four times more likely to experience depression when exposed to polluted air at the age of twelve. The scientists explain that their results are particularly significant because 75 percent of mental health problems begin in childhood or adolescence. During this time, the brain is developing particularly quickly. Research also suggests a link between polluted air and anti-social behavior, but more research is needed to confirm this. A larger study is expected later this year.
Air pollution is bad for the mind and body
High air pollution is bad for adults and especially for children, both for physical and mental health, emphasizes study author Dr. Helen Fisher from Kings College London. It makes sense to avoid areas with the highest air pollution. National governments should take the problem seriously and reduce harmful air pollution, the expert added.
The risk of depression was quadrupled in some cases
The 284 children in the study who were 12 years old and lived in the 25 percent of the most polluted areas were three to four times more likely to experience depression at the age of 18 than the 25 percent of children in the least polluted areas . In comparison, previous studies have shown that children who experience physical abuse are one and a half times more likely to experience depressive disorders.
Other factors were also taken into account
The researchers also considered other factors that may affect mental health, such as a family history of mental illness, income level, bullying, and smoking. They also examined the occurrence of anxiety and ADHD in the subjects, but found no connection with air pollution.
Air pollution can reduce intelligence
The risk of anti-social behavior was three to five times higher with high air pollution. In contrast to depression, the result was not statistically significant because the number of adolescents who behaved anti-social in the study was very small overall. So far, the impact of air pollution on mental health has been investigated relatively little - unlike physical health. Studies in adults have shown conflicting results, although there is clear evidence that air pollution can even significantly reduce intelligence.
Inflammation in the Brain Cause of Depression?
The study was not intended to investigate the exact cause of the depression. An inflammation from the toxic pollution is likely to occur, says study author Fischer. Pollutant particles are small enough to cross the so-called blood-brain barrier. There are strong connections between inflammation in the brain and the development of depressive symptoms, the doctor explains. Children and adolescents are particularly vulnerable. Your brain develops, enormous hormonal changes occur and children and adolescents are exposed to many stressful situations, such as in their social relationships, exams and when looking for a training place.
More research is needed
Further research is important, but it can be assumed that reducing air pollution is less difficult than avoiding other factors that can cause psychological problems, explains Fischer. A better understanding also enables earlier intervention and the initiation of countermeasures. (as)