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Strong air pollution influences mental health

air pollution affects meantal health

People who live in an area where there is serious air pollution report depressive feelings more often.This is shown by the results of a study by Ghent University in collaboration with a British university.More than 25,000 people from 216 regions in 20 European countries were interviewed for this in 2011-2012.The study was published this week in the journal Health & Place .

Air quality

In countries where governments have a sustainable environmental policy, the study shows that residents generally experience fewer problems of air quality in their neighborhood. On the other hand, residents who still live in areas with large air pollution will report more psychological complaints. In these countries, mental health of the citizen is generally more closely linked to the quality of the environment and anyone who lags behind feels this very strongly.

In countries where there is no sustainable environmental policy and where the air quality in the neighborhood is poor, the residents also have significantly more psychological complaints. Yet the impact of living in a polluted neighborhood on well-being is less there. The quality of the environment plays a less important role for the well-being of the population, and people have less confidence in the government and its policies.

More conscious life

It is clear that the implementation of a sustainable policy makes the population more sensitive to problems of sustainability and environmental friendliness. People become aware of what a quality living environment can mean for their quality of life and this becomes an important aspect of their mental health.

This research result also means that in these countries the general health of the population would be worse if they were confronted again with a high degree of environmental pollution, as is still the case in some European countries.

Differences between countries

The research makes a distinction between different European countries and regions based on the way in which they pursue a sustainable environmental policy or not. Some countries have a tradition of sustainable policy, while others lag behind: Advanced environmental policy (Austria, the Netherlands, Denmark, UK, Sweden, France, Germany, Finland); Emerging environmental policy (Italy, Belgium, Ireland, Portugal, Hungary), Inadequate environmental policy (Greece, Poland, Slovakia, Spain).

Mental health

The mental health of all participants was mapped. They were also asked to what extent they were dealing with polluted air in the neighborhood where they live. This data, from the European Quality of Life Survey (EQLS) from 2011-2012, was associated with information on regional air quality (SO2) obtained from the European Environment Agency. Then it was checked how much confidence they have in government policy, their education level, whether they have financial difficulties and whether they live in an urbanized environment.

Socio-economic factors

The research took into account a series of factors that are also related to the pursuit of a sustainable policy and life in neighborhoods with strong air pollution. For example, we know that highly skilled people and those who are better off financially generally live in ‘well-off’ neighborhoods and regions with a lower degree of pollution. It is also the case that countries that pursue a less sustainable policy can generally count on more mistrust among the population. Both factors, social deprivation and increased distrust, are known to be bad for mental health.