Increased suicide risk linked to air pollution
SUICIDE accounts for more than 40,000 deaths in the United States (US) each year, making it one of the top 10 leading causes of death in the country. While psychological factors such as stress, anxiety and depression are known drivers of suicide, a new study claims to have found evidence of a more surprising risk factor: exposure to air pollution.
People exposed to increased levels of air pollution short term – particularly men and middle-aged adults – were found to have a higher suicide risk.
The researchers, including Amanda Bakian, PhD, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, publish their findings in The American Journal of Epidemiology.
This is not the first study to find a link between air pollution and increased risk of suicide. A 2010 study published in The American Journal of Psychiatry found people from over seven cities in South Korea were nine per cent more likely to commit suicide within 2 days of a rise in air pollution.
And last year, Bakian and colleagues conducted a study that found residents of Salt Lake County were more likely to commit suicide within 3 days of being exposed to increased levels of nitrogen oxide or high concentrations of fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) – particles in smoke and haze that are 2.5 micrometers in diameter or less.
They build on these findings with their latest study, which found middle-aged individuals and men are most at risk of suicide through exposure to air pollution.
Short-term air pollution exposure ‘increased suicide risk by up to 25%’
The team analyzed the records of 1,546 people in Salt Lake County who committed suicide between 2000 and 2010.
Consistent with their previous findings, the researchers calculated that individuals who were exposed to increased levels of nitrogen dioxide were 20 per cent more likely to commit suicide in the following three days, while those exposed to higher concentrations of PM 2.5 were five per cent more likely to take their own lives within the next three days.