How Pollution Affects Mental Health
“There’s so much pollution in the air now that if it weren’t for our lungs, there’d be no place to put it all” –
“Pollution is the introduction of harmful materials into the environment. These harmful materials are called pollutants. Pollutants can be natural, such as volcanic ash. They can also be created by human activity, such as trash or runoff produced by factories. Pollutants damage the quality of air, water, and land.”
According to National Geographic, pollution is a global problem and studies will show that there is an increasing link between environmental pollution and a risk of developing psychological disorders.
This begs the question, how exactly does pollution cause mental illness? Does it really affect human behaviour? Can environmental factors indeed cause mental illness?
Studies from the USC reveal the implications of air pollution on brain development and neurological health in children and older women.
These studies further state how tiny, inhalable pollutants from cars and power plants can impact our brains functions or dysfunctions.
These studies further show that these tiny particles, when inhaled, may alter the size of a child’s developing brain, which may then, ultimately, increase the risk for cognitive and emotional problems at a later time in the child’s life.
“At this young age, the neurons in children’s brains are expanding and pruning at an incredible rate. As your brain develops, it wants to create efficient pathways,” said Megan Herting, an assistant professor at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. “If these pathways are altered by PM2.5 exposure, and different parts of the brain are maturing and making connections at different rates, that might set you up for individual differences later on.”
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 9 out of 10 people worldwide inhale polluted air. Exposure to polluted air is accountable for approximately 7 million deaths yearly. Respiratory, cardiovascular, and neurovascular diseases can be traced back to being adverse side effects of air pollution.
But how exactly does it cause mental illness or a change in human behaviour?
We have all heard that secondary smokers are largely at risk, just like active smokers, if not more. A secondary smoker inhales smoke passively. You don’t mean to breathe it in, you just do because you do have to breathe and in doing so, you are putting your health at great risk. 10 to 15 % of non – smokers are victims of lung cancer, and all they did was breathe in air tainted with toxic agents.
Air pollution, sleep deprivation, stress, noise pollution that jerks you out of much-needed sleep or causes a migraine, all affect mental health and have damaging lasting effects. One can only speculate what this means to the people living in Nigeria, where pollution is everywhere. As long as you live in Lagos, Nigeria, and a few other densely polluted states in the country, you are bound to be sleep-deprived and faced with the toxic air inhalation intrusion.
When we think of mental health, we think of the lack of lifestyle, genetics, and even diet. We hardly take into consideration, the fact that our environment is the biggest cause of many sorts of mental illness.
The environment we live and work in shapes part of the wider aspects of our lives. Ever wonder why it is said that a change of environment is needed once in a while? Or how a vacation or a pause from work to take in clean air, is used as a remedy to ease stress?
Several environmental factors can affect sleep cycles, and living in our part of the world, many of these are not within our control. Generators at odd hours, noisy neighbours, living close to the main roads, all of these and more could contribute to poor sleep, and in turn, takes a toll on the immune system.
Sleep aids the heart vessels in healing and rebuilding and affects processes that maintain blood pressure, sugar levels, and inflammation control. Lack of sleep increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. It affects hormone levels and brain function.
“Long-term health effects from air pollution include heart disease, lung cancer, and respiratory diseases such as emphysema and can also cause long-term damage to people’s nerves, brain, kidneys, liver, and other organs. Some scientists suspect air pollutants cause birth defects.”
When the brain is not motivated, when the human mind is limited, when no end is in sight to misery, when the toxic air soaks up the lungs, making it difficult to breathe it slowly fogs the mind, there is a rapid decline in mental health.
Our health is our own, and it is our wealth, we must do everything to protect and save it.