Mental Health, News

Mental Health and Air Pollution

11 · Nov · 2020
Photograph by: Suniko Bazargarid | People In Need

Written by Munkhtulga Ganbat

With high amounts of hazardous chemical particles, Ulaanbaatar’s polluted air continually affects each of its 1.4 million citizens’ central nervous systems.

Physiologically, toxic micro-particles, and chemical elements find their way to the nerves through an individual’s respiratory system. This causes neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration, such as atrophy and loss of functions in neurons and in the central nervous system, which includes the brain [1-3]. As a result, breathing polluted air affects peoples’ mental well-being.

Although there are no experimental studies claiming air pollution “causes” mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety, there are many observational studies that suggest it can exacerbate or increase the risk of developing various mental and psychological illnesses.

Chemical Compounds and Research Outcomes

During the winter in Ulaanbaatar, smoke from burning coal, car emissions,  power, and heating plants are responsible for 80%, 10%, and 6% of the air pollution, respectively. In turn,  the following chemical compounds are produced in enormous volumes and are regularly inhaled by the city dwellers [4]:

  1. Carbon monoxide – CO
  2. Nitrogen dioxide – NO2
  3. Sulfur dioxide – SO2
  4. Ozone – O3

Contaminants

Observations

 CO The amount of CO in the air and the number of suicide attempts in urban areas have a statistical correlation [5]

When the amount of CO in the air increases, the number of people seeking emergency care due to depression increases [6]

 NO2 Inhalation of high levels of NO2 increases the risk of committing suicide [7]

A 10μg/m3 Increase of NO2 in the air increases the risk of depression by 37-193% percent [8]

 SO2 Prolonged exposure to high levels of SO2 increases the risk of suicide [9, 10]
 O3 When older adults breathe high levels of O3, it increases the risk of them developing depressive symptoms and psychological instability [11]

The amount of O3 in the air is statistically related to the number of suicides [12]

In addition to the four chemical compounds mentioned above, coal and vehicle exhaust also contain heavy metals such as chromium, mercury, lead, and arsenic, which are harmful to health [13]. Observations show that the amount of lead and cadmium in the air is also statistically related to the number of schizophrenia cases [14].

Based on these and other studies, air pollution has a direct effect on the brain. Thus, air pollution is detrimental to the mental health of residents in Ulaanbaatar.

Children’s Mental Health and Air Pollution

“Mental health image. Various emotion and maind.” by tadamichi licensed under One Design Use License Agreement. No changes were made.

If polluted air harms the health of the human brain, it must also harm a child’s developing brain. Observations and studies published in recent years show inflammatory responses in children’s brains are related to air pollution from traffic [15]. Exposure to air pollution from an early age has a strong correlation with depression and anxiety symptoms in children [16].

Polluted air can affect children’s ability to understand and learn [17], and it can lead to long-term depression, anxiety, and even suicide. Because air pollution increases inflammation of the brain in depressed children, it can aggravate existing conditions, leading to chronic depression. This may lead to lifelong mental or psychiatric illness.

Conclusion and Recommendation

World Mental Health Day is celebrated every year on October 10th, and the theme for this year was “Move for Mental Health: Increased Investment in Mental Health.”

In addition to economic instability, bad lifestyle habits, poor diet, excessive smartphone use, and stressful social and personal life, air pollution increases the risk of severe mental illness. Currently, there are no economic opportunities in Mongolia to drastically reduce air pollution in Ulaanbaatar. Therefore, citizens need to protect themselves, their families, and others from polluted air.

We ask you to invest in your health, including your mental well-being. Here are some things we recommend to make a habit to protect yourself and your loved ones.

Recommendations:

  • Get 7-9 hours of sleep a day
  • Exercise, practice yoga, and sports
  • Moderate your use of alcohol or tobacco
  • If possible, place indoor trees and flowers at home and work
  • Observe the air pollution in your environment and wear an N95 mask when the pollution is high
  • Take deep breaths in the fresh air for one to ten minutes and while observing your body and mind
  • Keep a personal diary
  • Take regular breaks between work and school to relax your brain (No phone, Facebook, Instagram, etc.)
  • Express love and gratitude to your loved ones
  •  Call (+976) 1800-2000 for urgent help for mental health

 

Sources referenced

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26718591/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23033537/ 
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26711676/
  4. https://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/97/2/19-020219/en/ 
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21079694/
  6. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0165032714000044
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4339389
  8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28705430
  9. https://ehjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12940-016-0177-1
  10. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20828830
  11. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22514209
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4333123
  13. https://www.gem.wiki/Heavy_metals_and_coal
  14. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27720315/
  15. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31103795/
  16. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30925441/
  17. https://www.nber.org/papers/w25489

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