The impact of environmental pollution on mental health

By: Alejandra Araujo, Jazmín Ocampo, Rodrigo Carrillo y Sergio Zulueta.

Over time, various studies have been deepened on the relationship between environmental pollution and mental health, and, although the research carried out is still weak, it can be said that it is a directly proportional relationship, that is, the more environmental pollution, the greater the damage that will be caused to people suffering from mental health illnesses.

The term mental health usually has different meanings that depend on the assigned focus. For example, in the clinical setting, it is related to the criteria of traditional medicine. While in the psychiatric field it is consolidated as a state of balance and active adaptation that provide well-being to the individual (Dávila, 1985). In the social sphere, it is established as the coexistence of an environment in which harmony prevails.

The concept of environmental pollution, for its part, is consolidated as "a cyclical process that involves all environments: air, water and soil, and from any perspective, living beings both emitters and receivers of pollutants" (Domínguez, 2015, p.1).

Several factors increase the rate of environmental pollution. Among them, we find those related to the ground - landfills in which waste is buried -, atmospheric field - propagation of harmful elements through the exhaust pipes -, acoustics - excess sound that generates irritability -, among others. In this way, the human being is usually exposed to the presence of harmful components that threaten his health. Specifically with the ideal development of full mental health.

This is since the environment in which we live greatly influences our physical and mental development, being naturally a factor that guarantees and facilitates good health, especially mental health in people of all ages, since it allows to reduce the levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and loneliness. In the same way, it also allows combating a series of pathologies, so that environmental pollution only contributes to its increase and that of anxiety and depression. Likewise, the most harmful effects of pollution will aggravate the situation of people suffering from a serious mental illness, in addition to affecting other individuals in society. (Galán, 2018).

Effect of air pollution on mental health

The study of air pollution, which includes the increase in the concentration of certain gases and particles, and its effect on mental health has been increasing in recent years, finding certain associations between exposure to poor air quality and increased risk of adverse mental health conditions (Lowe et al., 2021).

On the one hand, it has been possible to identify that high exposure to tropospheric ozone (O3) and particles with a diameter smaller than 2.5 microns (PM 2.5) can increase cases of mental illnesses, because they can cause neuro-inflammatory responses, processes that contribute to the appearance of depression (King, 2018). Likewise, high levels of PM 2.5 and PM10 have a significant association with high levels of anxiety, increasing much more if people already have other physical health conditions. In addition, concentrations of heavy metals such as cadmium or lead, which are usually found in the form of particles, may be associated with schizophrenia (King, 2018) (Li et al., 2020).

Although these studies were carried out in large cities belonging to industrialized areas such as China or the United Kingdom, it is important that in our country measures can be adopted to mitigate possible effects on people's health, such as the increase in green areas, urban design, and planning. territorial.

The deterioration of mental health by a polluted environment

The first signs of concern for the environment and its relationship with human behavior began with the need to provide a suitable environment for workers at the beginning of the 20th century. One case is the Hawthorne experiment, carried out in 1927, which sought to know the effect of lighting on employee performance. In this, the preponderance of the psychological factor over the physiological factor was verified, that is, the psychological conditions to improve productivity (Balção and Cordeiro, 1971).

According to the UN Population Division, at least 56.2% of the population is in urban areas In Latin America and the Caribbean this percentage increases, being 81.2% (Buchholz, 2020).

In this way, the characteristics of urban environments, directly and indirectly, affect mental health, especially in indoor environments. Poor housing quality, residential density, noise, indoor air quality, and light, cause deterioration of mental health, with indirect effects that alter psychosocial processes with long-term sequelae (Evans, 2003).

Similarly, within the measures taken by countries to mitigate the effects of pollution on mental health. There is, on the one hand, the case of Chile, in which mining waste remained sent by a Swedish company in Arica. Faced with this scenario, the UN rapporteurs called on both governments to provide definitive solutions. Sweden's response was not to take over the repatriation. While Chile temporarily transferred the waste to Quebrada Encantada (Aparicio, 2021). On the other hand, Germany tends to exceed the limit for Nitrogen oxides established by Europe. Therefore, among its measures to counteract this situation is the temporary ban on the circulation of diesel vehicles in especially polluted areas (Rueder, 2016).


Pollution can be of various types: air, water, soil pollution, etc. The alteration of the external environment due to pollution also has negative effects on mental health. Various solutions have been implemented, including biological, chemical, and physical methods, however, attention must be paid to nipping the contamination in the bud so that a possible decontamination process can be carried out (Ukaogo, Ewuzie and Onwuka, 2020).

Since this writing, the proposals put forward to stop the increase in environmental pollution that affects the mental health of the inhabitants are the action of providing specialized support to reduce the degree of stress in centers close to the community (prevention modules and treatment). In addition, the implementation of recreational green areas for each determined plot. And to a greater extent if public or private works are being developed in that area that may undermine the collective consensus. Also, reinforce compliance with environmental policies. All this, through an efficient and accurate state control that meets its objective of environmental and mental protection.


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