Air pollution may have more long-term effects on teens than previously thought. A new study conducted in the U.K. found that adolescents who are exposed to pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides, harmful particles and nitrogen dioxide, are more likely to experience psychotic episodes during their teen years.
People living in densely populated, urban areas have increased risks of having clinical psychosis. This includes disorders like schizophrenia. Prior to the new study, researchers had yet to start any long-term projects that explore the relationship between air pollution and these mental disorders, despite pollution becoming a growing issue in urban locations.
The new study, published in Jama Psychiatry, looked at more than 2,200 children in the U.K. and examined the link between air pollution and mental health. The study was conducted over an 18 year period and included children from various socioeconomic backgrounds and geographic locations. In over 92 percent of the cases, the test subjects reported some kind of psychotic experience, such as having intense paranoia or hearing voices.
“We found that adolescent psychotic experiences were more common in urban areas,” explained Joanne Newbury, one of the lead scientists on the study at King’s College London.
Newbury added that they were unable to directly link the psychotic experiences of teens in the study with air pollution. Their findings, however, strongly suggest that these harmful chemicals are a contributing factor in the connection between urban populations and psychosis.
It should be noted that the study took into account biological factors, and the scientists admitted that psychosocial mechanisms, such as stress, could also be at work.
By 2050, experts estimate that over 70 percent of the world’s human population will be living in cities. With more and more people gravitating toward urban locations, it is vastly important that we discover why city dwellers are more susceptible to mental disorders. Although there are likely multiple connections to be made, the harmful gases and particles that commonly make up air quality should not be ignored.
Image via David Holt