The link between poor air quality and mental health

Making sure young children breathe clean air gives them a better start in life – physically and emotionally. (Rawpixel pic)

Many studies have been conducted on the link between poor air quality and chronic diseases such as heart disease, but a study by researchers in the US and Denmark has found that environmental pollution can also be linked to an increased risk of psychiatric disorders.

The study, published in “PLOS Biology”, showed that children (up to age 10) in Denmark who grew up in more polluted areas had a higher risk of developing schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, personality disorder and depression.

US children growing up in areas with poor air quality showed a higher likelihood of depression and bipolar disorder.

What about other studies?

Are there other studies that have come to the same conclusions?

Three studies have shown that there is indeed an observable relationship between air quality and mental health.

The studies by researchers at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Centre 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 being exposed to pollution caused by traffic and generalised anxiety symptoms in otherwise healthy children.

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

It is not just exposure to traffic pollution that can be detrimental to a family’s health. The US Environmental Protection Agency has reported that the air quality in some American homes can be two to five times worse than it is outside.

The causes of pollution indoors include flame retardants in soft furnishings, dander and dust in carpets and volatile organic compounds emitted by pressed wood furniture and harsh cleaning products.

A change of lifestyle

Families should aim to replace pressed wood furniture and soft furnishings containing formaldehyde and make healthier choices, such as using a steam vacuum cleaner to kill bacteria without the need for bleach and other toxic cleaning products.

A home inspection should be done for cracks in the structure that could be letting in poor quality air.

Small steps, such as leaving shoes outside and by changing clothes quickly and placing them in the washing machine, are also useful.

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 a relationship between pollution and mental health issues. Be aware that indoor pollution can be worse than that outside.

Take steps to improve the air quality in the home by eliminating toxic sources and filtering harmful particles that can contribute to everything from allergies to respiratory difficulties and mental distress.

Dennis Relojo-Howell is the founder of Psychreg and host of The DRH Show. You can connect with him on Twitter @drelojo_howell