The world today is safer and healthier than it’s ever been before. And, yet, people are sad. Really sad. Depression is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for people ages ages 15 to 44.3, affecting over 16 million people.
Globally, the problem is even worse. As of 2017, 300 million people around the world were diagnosed with depression.The situation is so dire that almost one million people take their own lives each year.
It’s not just depression. Anxiety, schizophrenia, personality disorders, and bipolar syndrome are all on the rise. In fact, one out of every four people in the world (that’s 450 million people!) suffer from mental health issues. And the numbers keep rising.
What is causing this surge of mental illness?
Unfortunately, there are no easy answers. Mental health is a complicated issue involving many different factors. But recent studies have consistently been pointing to one common culprit: Pollution!
A US study showed that counties with the worst air quality had a 27 percent increase in bipolar disorder and a 6 percent increase in depression, compared to the national average.
Studies in London, China, and South Korea have discovered similar links between dirty air and poor mental health.
But what does air quality have to do with mental health?
While researchers are still not sure how exactly polluted air affects human brains, they do know that pollution exposure can cause inflammation and cell death in the brain cells of rodents… both of which could potentially cause or worsen psychiatric disorders.
And it isn’t only an issue of diagnosed psychiatric disorders. Siqi Zheng, the Faculty Director of MIT China Future City Lab, used real-time data from social media to track how changing daily pollution levels impact people’s happiness. He found that, on polluted days, people were more impulsive and risky, which could possibly be a result of short-term depression and anxiety.
The effects are even more noticeable in children and teenagers. A study published recently in Environmental Health Perspectives, examined the link between short-term exposure to pollution and health effects in children. Just days after breathing in dirty air, the children’s’ mental health became noticeably worse.
What can we do about it?
The bad news is that the only thing we can really do as individuals about outdoor pollution is avoid it. If you live in an urban or highly polluted area, check the pollution forecasts before spending too much time outdoors.
The good news is that there are concrete ways to make sure that your indoor air is clean and free of contaminants that could harm your mental health.
Increased ventilation, houseplants, and salt lamps are all ways to help keep your air fresh. But, by far, the best thing you can do to maintain healthy air quality in your home or office is to purchase an air purifier.