Children who live in areas with higher air pollution when they were younger are significantly more likely to develop major depression by age 18.

In analyzing how common air pollutants affect adolescent mental health, researchers found that young children were three to four times more likely to develop depression at age 18 if they had been exposed to air polluted at the age of 12. Comparison with previous work indicates that air pollution is a more important risk factor than physical abuse in increasing the risk of depression in adolescent girls.

The scientists said their findings are particularly significant because 75% of mental health problems begin in childhood or adolescence, when the brain is developing rapidly. Their research also suggests a link between toxic air and antisocial behavior.

“High levels of air pollution are simply not good for us, and especially for our children, whether it’s physical or mental health,” said Helen Fisher of Kings College London, who led the research. “It’s smart to try to avoid areas with the highest levels of air pollution. We should really insist that local and national governments reduce these levels. The study, published in the journal Psychiatry Research, combines monitoring of a group of children in London with in-depth data on air pollution levels.

Of the 284 children studied, those who lived in the most polluted 25% of areas at age 12 reported three to four times more depression at age 18, compared to those who lived in the worst 25% of areas. less polluted.

Air pollutants pass into the brain and cause inflammation

“We know that pollutant particles are small enough to cross the blood-brain barrier and we know there are strong links between inflammation in the brain and the development of depressive symptoms.” Helen Fisher points out that children and adolescents are particularly vulnerable. “Their brains are developing, the hormones are changing a lot, and they’re exposed to a lot of stressful things,” like forming their relationship with the world, as well as exams and looking for work, she says, which helps this moment of the onset of depression.

Antisocial behavior in teenagers multiplied by five

The increased risk of antisocial behavior was three to five times greater in children who grew up in the most air pollution. Compared to physical health, the effect of air pollution on mental health was relatively small. studied. Research on adults has so far produced strong evidence that air pollution can lead to a “significant reduction in intelligence”.


Susanna Roberts: Exploration of NO2 and PM2.5 air pollution and mental health problems using high-resolution data in London-based children from a UK longitudinal cohort study. Psychiatry Research

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