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Truth Behind the Headlines: Small increases in air pollution linked to rise in depression, finds study

A new study has revealed that small increases in people’s exposure to air pollution is linked to significant rises in depression and anxiety. Those living in places with higher levels of particle pollution were twice as likely to experience mental health problems as those in the least polluted areas.


The researchers wanted to highlight that unlike other factors impacting mental health, such as genetics, air pollution can be prevented.

Using our recommended five tips, Global Action Plan reviewed the study:


Questions to ask to get to the truth Our response
1. Does the article refer to a report to back up its claims?

The article refers to a study published in the journal of Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology - Mental health consequences of urban air pollution: prospective population‑based longitudinal survey.

2. Who is behind the study it refers to?

The lead author, Ioannis Bakolis works at Kings College London and Imperial College London. The paper represents independent research part-funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London.

3. How fantastical and radical is the claim that is being made?

The demographic and socioeconomic profiles of the overall sample was similar to the 2011 UK Census demographic and socioeconomic indicators for the catchment area.

Participants’ mental health was assessed by the Revised Clinical Interview Schedule - a structured interview administered by trained staff that asks about 14 symptom domains (e.g. fatigue, sleep problems, irritability). Physical symptoms were measured using the Patient Health Questionnaire subscale. A total score was acquired by summing all the items in the questionnaires.

Pollution exposure at the residential address of the participants was estimated for NOx, ozone and particulate matter, with the use of the King’s College London urban model based on quarterly average data – including pollution from road transport (exhaust and non-exhaust), large regulated industrial processes, small regulated industrial processes, large boiler plant, gas heating (domestic and industrial–commercial), oil combustion sources (domestic and commercial), coal combustion sources (domestic and commercial), agricultural and natural sources, rail, ships, airports and others (sewage plant etc.).


4. What geographical region does the claim refer to?

South-East London but the results are relevant for cities and towns across the world.

5. What is the sample size of the study?

The study followed more than 1,000 adults in south-east London over five years.


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