Pollution and Mental Health

Teresa Madaleno

When someone mentions pollution and kids, it can bring up concerns about asthma. About one in twelve Americans suffer from asthma and many of them are children. Pollution can also make kids more susceptible to other respiratory ailments, but along with the horrible physical effects of air pollution, a new study suggests that pollution can impact children psychologically.

Umea University in Sweden analyzed 500,000 children under the age of 18 from across the country. They took note of various mental health disorders and medications that the children were taking for those disorders. These included, sleeping aides and antipsychotic medications. The team then compared this to levels of nitrogen dioxide in the locations where the children lived. What they discovered was that the kids who were prescribed medication for one or more psychiatric disorders were living in higher air pollution areas.

The researchers have concluded that it is possible that the exposure to air pollution for certain mental disorders in children and adolescent even at low levels could be related.

One of the researchers wonders if decreased traffic will help reduce the number of psychiatric disorders since nitrogen dioxide is a gas emitted by vehicles.

There are now calls for more in depth research to see if in fact, vehicle emissions pose a serious danger to developing minds.

Experts admit it is a tricky area of study since there are many other issues that influence a child’s mental health. For example, studies show that insufficient sleep, bullying, poor diet and sedentary behaviour can also lead to mental health problems in young children and teenagers.

While it may be easier to control sleep, diet and behaviour, pollution exposure is more of a challenge, but one suggestion by the Swedish researchers is to at least find out if the area you live in has emissions monitoring. Knowing whether or not you are living in a high-risk air pollution area is important. It is information you can pass on to doctors should your child require an assessment. The researchers are also encouraging people to choose a green commute whenever possible.