Jun 16, 2019 | Updated: 11:54 AM EDT

Study Shows Air Pollution Causes Psychotic Behavior

Mar 28, 2019 04:17 PM EDT

Polluted street in the city
(Photo : David Lee)

Every day, the world is being warned of the dangers caused by air pollution. Contaminated air has been known to cause respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. Recently, a new study has pointed out that air pollution can not only cause physical diseased but mental problems as well.

Joanne Newbury at King's College London is the lead researcher of the paper published in the journal Jama Psychiatry. In the research, over 2,000 17-year-old participants across Wales and England have been interviewed privately. Data analysis suggest that there is a 70% higher chance for people living in areas with a higher concentration of nitrogen oxides to experience symptoms of psychotic behavior. This includes intense paranoia and hearing voices.

According to Newbury's research, there is a higher number of city dwellers exhibiting symptoms of psychotic behavior than that of people living in urban areas. As statistics project a rising number of occupants that are moving into cities, the possibility that more people could have psychotic symptoms would follow. 

The dangers posed by air pollution affecting one's mental health could have serious implications as some studies show that those who have psychotic experiences while at a young age could potentially develop a mental illness. 

In their study, Newbury has taken into consideration all other potential causes of psychotic experiences. These include smoking, cannabis and alcohol use, neighborhood deprivation, psychiatric history, genetic susceptibility, crime, and even family income. 

Diesel vehicles are identified to be the biggest contributor of Nitrogen oxide concentration in the air in towns and cities where younger demographic, including children and adolescents, are exposed to on a daily basis. The published research is linking exposure to air pollution and the occurrence of psychotic experiences. Among the participants, one third lived in urban areas and only one fifth lived in rural areas. (The rest have a suburban residency.)

Through the study, it was found out that for people living in areas with higher levels of pollution, there are 12 teenagers that had psychotic experiences for every 20 teenagers that did not. Whereas, for people living in areas with lower levels of pollution, there are seven teenagers that had psychotic experiences for every 20 teenagers who did not. Areas with higher levels of pollution are those at the top 25% of the list.

Stefan Reis, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology's head of atmospheric chemistry and effects, regards Newbury's research as a valuable contribution as there is already a growing body of evidence that the effects of air pollution are more devastating and far-reaching than initially imagined.

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