Air pollution may increase adolescents’ depression symptoms, study finds

Photo (c) zhuyongming - Getty Images

Experts say stricter regulations may benefit consumers’ physical and mental health

Countless studies have looked at the ways air pollution can be detrimental to consumers’ physical health, and now researchers from the American Psychological Association explored how pollutants can also harm our mental health

According to their findings, teens exposed to ozone from air pollution may be more likely to experience depression-related symptoms. This was true even for those in areas that met air quality standards. 

“I think our findings really speak to the importance of considering air pollution’s impact on mental health in addition to physical health,” said researcher Erika Manczak, Ph.D. 

Mental health concerns

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from over 210 kids between the ages of 9 and 13 living in the San Francisco area. To understand what impact air pollution had on the kids’ mental health, the team compared data from the California Environmental Protection Agency with mental health evaluations over the course of four years. 

The researchers identified a relationship between air pollution exposure and depression symptoms. The study showed that exposure to higher levels of ozone, which typically comes from power plants or car exhaust, increased the likelihood of experiencing symptoms related to depression. These symptoms became more severe as the study progressed. 

This was true despite the fact that all of the participants lived in neighborhoods that were in compliance with local and national air quality standards. 

“It was surprising that the average level of ozone was fairly low even in the communities with relatively higher ozone exposure,” Dr. Manczak said. “This really underscores the fact that even low levels of ozone exposure have potentially harmful effects. "

The researchers believe the link between air pollution and depression comes down to inflammation. Exposure to ozone has been associated with a spike in inflammation, which also makes consumers more susceptible to depression. The more time that kids spend outdoors, the greater their exposure is to these pollutants. This can ultimately increase the risk of depression. 

Moving forward, the researchers hope policymakers do more work to help protect consumers from air pollution exposure. 

“I believe state and federal air quality standards should be stricter, and we should have tighter regulations on industries that contribute to pollution,” said Dr. Manczak. “Our findings and other studies suggest that even low levels of ozone exposure can pose potentially serious risks to both physical and mental health.” 

Looking to protect what matters most? Get matched with your best security system.