Air pollution is a problem that affects millions of people around the world, and its effects extend far beyond just physical health. There is growing evidence to suggest that air pollution can also have adverse effects on mental and emotional health.
Air pollution and its impact on mental health is a growing concern that cannot be ignored. Emerging research links exposure to environmental pollutants, including sources from air pollution, to increased prevalence and/or severity of mental disorders. Understanding the relationship between air pollution and mental health is a significant public health concern, given that 99% of the world’s population lives in environments that do not meet World Health Organization air quality guidelines.
The Science Behind Happiness
Happiness is a fundamental part of our well-being. It is a state of mind characterized by positive emotions, contentment, and a sense of fulfillment. Research has shown that happiness is not just a subjective feeling but also impacts physical and emotional health.
Happy people tend to have better cardiovascular health and a more robust immune system and are more likely to live longer. In addition, happiness has been linked to lower levels of stress, anxiety, and depression.
The science of happiness has led to the development of positive psychology, a field dedicated to studying and promoting happiness and well-being. Theorists and researchers in the field have sought to identify the elements of a good life. They have also proposed and tested practices for improving life satisfaction and well-being.
The Impact of Air Pollution on Happiness
The negative impacts of poor air quality are significant and widely recognized, as they can directly affect health, cognitive performance, and labour productivity. For example, the link between air pollution, infant mortality, and respiratory diseases is well-established. According to the World Health Organization, around 7 million deaths are attributed to air pollution annually.
Anxiety and depression are the most common mental disorders across the globe and can increase an individual’s risk of suicide attempts and completion, adversely affecting family and social relationships.
A 2020 study in Toronto, Canada, validated this link between air pollution and emergency room visits for mental health symptoms. Looking at 83,985 emergency room visits for people aged 8-24 between April 2004 and December 2015, researchers found that increases in PM2.5, ozone, and nitrogen dioxide were all associated with increased emergency room visits, sometimes up to 5 days after initial exposure to that pollutant.
Another example published in Nature Human Behaviour comes from China. Analyzing data from 144 Chinese cities, they found that self-reported happiness was significantly lower on days with relatively higher pollution levels.
Poor air quality can also have physical health effects that can indirectly impact mental and emotional health. For example, respiratory problems, heart disease, and other physical ailments can cause stress, anxiety, and other mental health problems.
The Relationship Between Clean Air and Happiness
One factor that comes into play regarding air quality is geographical location. People who live in areas with high levels of air pollution are more likely to experience health problems and decreased happiness levels. For instance, people living near refineries are exposed to more nickel and vanadium, while those near coal-fired power plants breathe particles with higher sulphate content. Neighbourhoods along busy roads have more nitrates from vehicle exhaust.
The climate also plays a significant role in air quality. The interaction between pollution and climate change will impose an additional “climate penalty” for hundreds of millions of people, according to a new report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The areas predicted to be most impacted by climate change, primarily located in Asia, are inhabited by approximately 25% of the global population. These regions may experience an intensification of surface ozone pollution events, resulting in adverse physical and mental health consequences for hundreds of millions of individuals.
The Importance of Prioritizing Air Quality
Given the significance of the problem, policymakers must prioritize air quality in their decision-making. This means supporting initiatives that reduce pollution, such as renewable energy projects and developing regulations that promote clean air. It also means supporting research into the effects of air pollution on mental health and finding ways to raise public awareness about the issue.
Studies propose that air pollutants, such as NH3, NOx, NMVOCs, SOx, CO2, and PM 2.5, may affect life satisfaction, happiness, or optimism. This suggests that environmental policies focused on reducing air pollution will not only positively impact the health of future generations but, at the same time, will increase the present individual’s quality of life.
Improve IAQ to Increase Happiness
A survey commissioned by the Building Engineering Services Association (BESA)reports that almost 70% of office workers believe poor air quality in their workplace harms their day-to-day productivity and well-being.
Research shows people who regularly breathe polluted air experience changes within the brain regions that control emotions. As a result, they may be more likely to develop anxiety and depression than those who breathe cleaner air. It has also been proven that those who breathe fresh air are less stressed than those who breathe polluted air. The more fresh air you get, the more oxygen you intake, which increases the serotonin (the happy hormone) you inhale, consequently making you happier.
In conclusion, air quality is essential to our overall well-being, and policymakers and individuals must prioritize it accordingly. Clean air contributes to our physical and emotional health, and reducing air pollution can have significant economic and social benefits. By working together to support clean air initiatives, we can create healthier, more sustainable communities and happier individuals.