Many studies have been carried out on the link between poor air quality and chronic diseases such as heart disease, but a study by researchers in the US and Denmark found that environmental pollution is also linked to an increased risk of psychiatric disorders. The study, published in PLOS Biology, showed that children in Denmark who grew up in more polluted areas up to the age of 10 had a higher risk of developing schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, personality disorder, and depression. Children in the US growing up amid poor air, meanwhile, showed higher likelihoods of depression and bipolar disorder.
Have other studies come to the same conclusion and if so, how can families take steps to improve the quality of the air they breathe?
Studies from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center are similar
Three studies on the same topic showed that there is indeed an observable relationship between air quality and mental health. The studies, undertaken by researchers at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, found that short-term exposure to air pollution was linked to the worsening of mental disorders one to two days after the exposure. A second study found a link between exposure to pollution caused by traffic and generalised anxiety symptoms in otherwise healthy kids. The third study found that exposure to traffic pollution early in life was linked to a higher rate of self-reported depression and anxiety in adolescents.
Indoor air quality can be worse
In case you think it is the only exposure to traffic that can negatively affect your family’s health, think again. The Environmental Protection Agency has stated that in the US, air quality in some homes can be two to five times worse than it is outside. Causes of pollution at home include flame retardants in soft furnishings, dander and dust in carpets, VOCs emitted from pressed wood furniture, and harsh cleaning products.
Families should work to keep indoor air quality optimal through the use of air filters in air vents, ensuring they choose the correct air filter size. Filters should be regularly cleaned and replaced if necessary. Hidden filters can be backed up through the placement of HEPA filters in rooms. The latter filter out particles as small as 0.3 microns.
A change of lifestyle
Families should also aim to replace pressed wood furniture and soft furnishings containing formaldehyde. They can consider making healthier choices, such as using steam vacuum cleaners to effectively kill bacteria without the need for bleach and other toxic cleaning products. Vacuum cleaners with HEPA filters can also remove the vast majority of allergens from exhaust air. They should additionally invest in a home inspection to check if there are cracks in structures that can let in air of poor quality.
Finally, they can take small steps such as leaving shoes by the front door or at the entrance and removing clothing quickly and placing it in the washing machine. Make sure to dry laundry outside to avoid attracting dust mites and breathing in chemicals from fabric softeners. Dust and particles on shoes and clothing can make their way into the air and because these particles are invisible to the human eye, their harmful effects on health go unnoticed.
Various studies have established an important relationship between pollution and mental health issues. Be aware that pollution indoors can be worse than that which can be found outside. Take steps to improve the air quality in your home by eliminating toxic sources and by filtering harmful particles that can contribute to everything from allergies to respiratory difficulties and mental distress.
Dennis Relojo-Howell is the managing director of Psychreg.