Three studies have been published highlighting the relationship between air pollution, anxiety, and depression in children. The studies were conducted by scientists at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center (CCHMC), in collaboration with researchers at the University of Cincinnati. This is new evidence on how air pollution affects mental health for kids specifically.
The first study found that short-term exposure to air pollution can make symptoms worse for children already suffering from mental health issues as soon as 1-2 days later. Children living in poorer neighborhoods are even more susceptible to these effects. Heavy smog was shown to cause feelings of anxiety and suicidal thoughts, especially in impoverished areas. Consistently, the CCMHC saw increased activity in the children’s psychiatric emergency department right after periods of elevated air pollution.
The second study showed a connection between traffic-related air pollution (TRAP) and intense, generalized anxiety in children. This study used brain imaging to show mental disturbance after smog exposure. High levels of a chemical called “myoinositol” were found in the children’s brains, which is a sign of a brain inflammation reaction.
The third study discovered that long-term exposure to TRAP during childhood was associated with anxiety and depression in 12-year-olds, which was self-reported. These preteens were aware of their own mental health symptoms and reported them getting worse during periods of high pollution.
“These studies contribute to the growing body of evidence that exposure to air pollution during early life and childhood may contribute to depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems in adolescence,” reported Dr. Patrick Ryan, lead author on two of the three studies, in Science Daily. The overall results showed that children are a vulnerable population, especially those living in poorer neighborhoods.
Kids exposed to smog and traffic-related air pollution throughout their childhood could be in serious danger. These studies show that not only will their lungs be affected, but their brains as well. Similar findings have been reported in adults, but this is the first concrete evidence of the extreme effects of pollution on children.