Air pollution linked with psychotic episodes in UK teens, study finds

Henrietta Strickland
March 29, 2019

"One of the most consistent findings over the past few decades has been a link between cities and psychosis", Joanne Newbury, lead author of the study stated.

She continued and explained that "Children who are born and raised in urban versus rural settings are nearly twice as likely to develop psychosis in adulthood".

The researchers said their findings do not indicate that greater air pollution caused the psychotic experiences, and that there could be other contributing factors like noise pollution and increased stress levels, which they did not examine.

The study pulled data from the Environmental-Risk Longitudinal Twin Study that included 2232 children born in England and Wales from January 1, 1994, through December 4, 1995. "Have you thought you were being followed or spied on?" The study's authors asked them whether they hear odd voices and whether they feel spied on or followed by others.

They are not unusual - being experienced at some point by nearly a third of the teenage population, for whom it is most common.

The research showed 623 participants (30.2%) had at least one psychotic experience between the ages of 12 and 18, with these being significantly more common among adolescents within the top quartile level of annual exposure to harmful airborne chemicals. Combining home addresses with two additional locations where the young people spent substantial amounts of time at age 17 meant the researchers could accurately model their exposure to air pollution over the space of a year.

Research from King's College London provides the first evidence of an association between air pollution and psychotic experiences in adolescence.

Teenagers living on polluted roads are roughly 40 per cent more likely to be psychotic, the first study of its kind concludes.

Newbury cautioned that this is not a cause-and-effect relationship but an association between air pollution and psychosis.

"We know traffic is noisy, and we know noise can disrupt sleep, and it can also be very stressful for people and both of those things have been associated with these types of psychotic experiences as well", senior author Dr Helen Fisher said.

The new study, published in the journal Jama Psychiatry, combined high-resolution air pollution data and psychotic experiences disclosed by the adolescents in private interviews.

They can be linked to the development of psychotic disorders and other mental health problems.

Teens living in dirty air 70% more likely to have symptoms such as paranoia, study finds. "There is a bigger picture here, but that does not diminish the importance of these findings and the potential that comes from this".

"The study makes a valuable contribution to the growing body of evidence that air pollution may affect more than just cardiovascular and respiratory health", said Stefan Reis, the head of atmospheric chemistry and effects at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. Research is linking air pollution with an increasing range of ill health, including reduced intelligence, dementia and depression, while other work has revealed air pollution can reach the brain.

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