100,000 young Americans experience psychotic episodes every year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health, while three in every 100 people will have at least one psychotic experience over the course of their lifetime. Scientists have never quite been able to pinpoint what causes psychosis. However, new research has revealed a strong link between air pollution and psychosis in young people.
The Link Between Air Pollution & Psychosis
Scientists at King’s College in London studied more than 2,200 children who were born between 1994 and 1995. They found that the highest reported incidences of psychotic experiences occurred in the teenagers who grew up in urban areas where air pollution was particularly high. Overall, 30% of the participants said that they had had a psychotic episode. However, teens who were exposed to high levels of nitrogen oxides in the air were 72% more likely to report a psychotic episode, while nitrogen dioxide exposure increased the likelihood by 71%.
How Air Pollution Affects the Brain
The researchers at London’s King’s College were unable to determine how air pollution affects the way the brain works and how it causes psychosis, although, they did suggest that when pollutants accumulate, they impact the function of the brain. A 2018 study backs this theory up. Zhang et al concluded that air pollution can damage an individual’s cognitive function, with Zhang stating, “We speculate that air pollution probably puts greater damage on the white matter in the brain.” Multiple studies have shown that changes in white matter in the brain occur in psychosis patients, while individuals with schizophrenia who have psychotic episodes typically have even greater white matter brain changes.
It’s estimated that by 2050, 70% of the global population will reside in urban areas where pollution levels will be high. As such, this study highlights the need for the nation to take care of their health. Qantas health insurance ensures that you are able to obtain the healthcare you require in the event that air pollution exposure leaves you facing psychotic episodes, or any other pollution-related illness.
While some scientists and health experts have dismissed the King’s College findings, saying that “There is no evidence that pollution necessarily causes psychosis,” and that the results are "Drawn from a study with literally thousands of variables," there’s no denying that scientists have found an interesting connection which needs to be investigated further. What’s more intriguing is that this isn’t the only study of its nature. A Swedish study which also looked at the role air pollution plays on adolescent mental health found that the teens who lived in areas with high air pollution had higher psychiatric medication use.
Air pollution is known to cause multiple health complaints. But the revelation that it can lead to psychosis, particularly in young people, is a new development, which shows that action must be taken to reduce the amount of pollution in the world.