That’s the conclusion reached in new research from UCL, which studied data from 16 countries to observe the link between harmful fumes in the air people breathe and the unseen health risks that can potentially result.
The researchers found reducing global average exposure to fine particulate matter air pollution from 44 micrograms per metre cubed (µg/m3) to 25µg/m3 could result in a 15% reduction in depression risk worldwide.
World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines recommend particulate matter pollution is kept under a level of 10µg/m3.
UCL found a 10µg/m3 increase in the average level of fine particulate matter people were exposed to over long periods was associated with an approximately 10% increase in the likelihood of them suffering from depression – in UK cities, the average particulate matter level that people are exposed to is 12.8µg/m3.
As a result, lowering average air pollution levels to the WHO recommended limit of 10µg/m3 could reduce urban UK residents’ depression risk by roughly 2.5%.
Lead Author Dr Isobel Braithwaite said: “We already know that air pollution is bad for people’s health, with numerous physical health risks ranging from heart and lung disease to stroke and a higher risk of dementia.
“Here, we’re showing that air pollution could be causing substantial harm to our mental health as well, making the case for cleaning up the air we breathe even more urgent.”