Research by Sass and her colleagues reveals that air pollution degrades the mental health of the people who experience it. Their work indicates that, in areas with higher levels of air pollution, it is particularly important to develop public and other spaces that support positive psychological experiences. The Sass team describes their research efforts in the United States: “Using annual-average measures of air pollution in respondents' census blocks of residence we find that over the period 1999–2011 [fine] particulate matter 2.5 is significantly associated with increased psychological distress; this association remains even after controlling for a robust set of demographic, socioeconomic, and health-related covariates [this means that sophisticated statistical analyses eliminated demographic factors, etc., as the explanations for the effects found]. This study suggests that public health efforts to reduce the personal and societal costs of mental illness should consider addressing not only individual characteristics and factors in the social environment, but also underexplored facets of the physical environment such as air pollution.” In brief: higher levels of pollution were linked to degraded mental health. Specific mental health factors considered included the study participants’ assessments of their own nervousness, hopelessness, and sadness, for example.
Victoria Sass, Nicole Kravitz-Wirtz, Steven Karceski, Anjum Hajat, Kyle Crowder, and David Takeuchi. 2017. The Effects of Air Pollution on Individual Psychological Distress.” Health and Place, vol. 48, pp. 72-79.