Researchers at King’s College London and Imperial College London collected data on 14,000 patients over seven years. They found that patients with psychotic and mood disorders, such as schizophrenia or depression, who had high pollution intake levels were more likely to be hospitalized than those from less polluted areas.
So what causes this? It seems that nitrogen dioxide is the main culprit. Higher levels of this contaminant (15 micrograms per cubic meter) in peoples’ homes led to an 18% increase in risk of being admitted to the hospital, and a 32% increased chance of needing outpatient care. Other common pollutants, like nitrogen oxide and particulate matter, showed smaller increases of about 7% and 11% for inpatient and outpatient care respectively.
Ultimately, the study adds to the growing research that climate change affects far more than just the environment. Not only does exposure increase our chances of severe mental health disorders, but prolonged, long-term exposure has been linked to reduced cognitive intelligence. Physically, too, there is a clear link to breathing challenges and skin issues. But as Dr. Adrian James of the Royal College of Psychiatrists said, “if air pollution is exacerbating [mental health conditions]” then “improving air quality could reduce the pressure on mental health services.