Air Pollution and Depression

June 14, 2017

Air Pollution and Depression

Depression is a common and serious mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness, as well as a loss of interest. According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), more than 16 million Americans are affected by this disorder every year. There are several factors believed to contribute to the development of depression, including genetics, personality, and chemical balance. Many environmental factors such as exposure to neglect and violence may also play a part.

The persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest that characterizes serious depression can lead to a wide range of symptoms including:

Sleep changes such as excessive sleepiness, insomnia, and nighttime restlessness

  • Anxiety
  • Apathy
  • General discontent
  • Agitation
  • Mood swings
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Suicidal thoughts

If these symptoms persist for more than two weeks, it may be time to seek the advice of a medical professional. Fortunately for those who are affected by depression, it is one of the most treatable mental disorders, usually through medication or psychotherapy.

Air Quality and Depression


Though scientists are still trying to understand the link between air quality and depression, air pollution does seem to play a role.

In a recent study, Ohio State University researchers exposed two groups of mice to either polluted or filtered air. Exposure was limited to six hours a day, for five days a week, and the study lasted for 10 months. The polluted air used in the study had a similar concentration of pollutants to that of our major urban areas.

Mice exposed to the polluted air showed more depressive behaviors than mice exposed to filtered air. Upon examining the brains of these mice, it was discovered that the hippocampus, the area of the brain associated with learning, memory, and mood had developed differently than mice in the control group.

Another study conducted by Columbia University discovered that children exposed to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), a group of chemical byproducts of burning coal and gasoline, while in utero are more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression.

What to do About Air Pollution and Depression


If you are concerned about how air pollution may be affecting your family’s mental health, there are steps you can take to lessen your exposure to airborne pollutants. Here are a few examples.

  1. Avoid tobacco products in the home. One major source of indoor air pollution is smoke from tobacco products. Comprised of fine and ultrafine particles, tobacco smoke also contains as many as 4,000 different chemicals. This is what you are breathing in when exposed to tobacco smoke. If smoking indoors in completely unavoidable, confine smoking to one room of the home while also keeping that room closed from the rest of the house.
  2. Keep windows and doors closed.This is especially important when particulate counts are high in your area or if you live near a busy road. To check your local air conditions, visit
  3. Use an air cleaner.According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), one of the most significant steps you can take to reduce your exposure to air pollutants is to use a high-efficiency air cleaner in your home. The Austin Air HealthMate Plus is one indoor air purifier that works well to improve your home’s indoor air quality and possibly reduce the symptoms of depression.
  4. Reduce exposure to outdoor air pollutants. While it is difficult to limit your exposure to outdoor air pollutants, there are important steps you can take. For more information, visit

If you or someone you love is suffering from depression, seek professional help. Most cases of depression improve with treatment.

If your depression is severe, and you find yourself struggling with thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. Help is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.


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