Researchers Warn Against Impacts Of Air Pollution On Teen Mental Health

Many things can affect your mental health. Internal factors like your thoughts and personal expectations or external factors like your relationships, career, or financial situation can all play a part in your emotional and mental wellbeing (via United Healthcare).

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), your mental health is a crucial aspect of your overall wellbeing, thanks to the part it plays in your physical health and longevity. Many factors can exacerbate mental health problems, including drugs or alcohol, abuse, loneliness, and imbalances within the brain and body (CDC). 

Teenagers, in particular, may be especially vulnerable to mental health issues thanks to the variety of risk factors they may encounter during an important time of development, reports the World Health Organization (WHO). In addition to peer pressure, academic stress, and a variety of other factors that could influence teens' mental wellbeing, a new study has now come out stating that air pollution may harm their mental health as well.

How air pollution can affect mental health

In a 2022 study published by the American Psychological Association (APA), researchers discovered that over the course of four years, adolescents ages 9-13 who lived in areas with increased ozone levels were more likely to report symptoms of depression.

Other potential factors for depression symptoms, such as exposure to stress and socioeconomic status, were ruled out (via APA). Study authors surmised that teens might be particularly susceptible to ozone pollution thanks to adolescence being a time of important brain development as well as the fact that they tend to spend more time outdoors.

Another reason why ozone pollution is thought to cause depression is thanks to the fact that it causes inflammation in the body (per U.S. News & World Report). According to Psychology Today, inflammation has been strongly linked to many illnesses, including depression.

Study author and assistant professor of psychology at the University of Denver, Dr. Erika Manczak, told U.S. News & World Report, "I think our findings really speak to the importance of considering air pollution's impact on mental health in addition to physical health." Dr. Manczak goes on to suggest that air quality standards and regulations need strict reform since even low levels of ozone exposure can pose serious mental and physical health risks in adolescents.