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  • Writer's pictureSafer Highways

Air Pollution connected to increased mental health outpatient visits

Higher levels of air pollution could be linked to increased use of mental health services, a study by the Yale School of Public Health has found.

The findings are based on outpatient visits collected at two major hospitals in Nanjing, China, a city experiencing high pollution. Researchers compared the number of visits directly correlated with times when air pollution was significant.

This study raised the need for further research to understand how and why air quality affects the rate at which mental health services are used.

Assistant Professor Sarah Lowe, author of the study, highlights that these findings underline the need for further investment in mental health services at time when air pollution is worse: ‘Particulate matter is having these more general effects, not just on symptoms but also on service use.’

While air pollution is composed of numerous pollutants, such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide caused by vehicle emissions, and sulphur dioxide from industrial plants, the study focussed on particulate matter. Professor Lowe explained that these ultrafine particles pose the biggest danger to human health, capable of ripping through lung tissue and entering the bloodstream, where it thought they influence mental health.

Assistant Professor Kai Chen, senior author of the study, commented: ‘These tiny particles not only have effects on the lungs, the heart and the brain, but they also have effects on other organs of your body.’

The new study is one of the only articles that explores the link between particulate matter the utilisation of outpatient mental health services. Authors hope this leads to further research into the ways mental health is impacted by ultrafine particles.

However, Lowe and Chen also recognise that there could be other factors that caused this trend.

One reason could be the lack of competing tasks, such as outdoor or sport activities, which might result in people using mental health services. Alternatively, air pollution physical symptoms, like increased breathing, could lead people to use the services.

‘There could be other reasons that we simply couldn’t explore with the data we hand. We don’t know that level of detail, and I think that would be a really interesting direction for future research,’ Lowe stated.

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