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Living in a polluted and busy area could raise your risk of old-age depression by a third

Living in a polluted and busy area could raise the risk of suffering depression in old age by a third, a study has found. 

People over the age of 50 who were exposed to ‘nuisances’ in their neighbourhood, including pollution, noise and crime, were more likely to suffer ill mental health.

Scientists believe exposure to toxic air could directly alter the brain, while noise and crime may stress people out and damage their mental health in a more obvious way.

Other findings suggest living in a place with good transport links, a pharmacy and supermarket protect against poor mental health later in life.

Living in a polluted area with traffic fumes and noise could raise the risk of suffering depression in old age by a third, a study has found (stock image)

The University of Edinburgh studied more than 10,000 people, aged 50 to 95, publishing their findings in the journal Preventive Medicine.

The participants from 13 European countries were quizzed every two years for a decade starting in 2004.

A number of things were assessed, including the environment of their current neighbourhood and where they lived while they were growing up, too.

To capture participants’ level of depression, they rated 12 measures, such as irritability, appetite and tearfulness, on a 12-point scale.

Most people (71.2 per cent) did not report any neighbourhood nuisances. Almost a quarter (23.2 per cent) had clinical depressive symptoms at the start, with a further 13.6 per cent developing them during follow-up.

Signs of neighbourhood nuisance increased the risk of depression by 36 per cent, with only slight variations between each country. 


Air pollution is killing more people every year than smoking, according to research published in March 2019.

Researchers in Germany and Cyprus estimated that air pollution caused 8.8million extra deaths in 2015 – almost double the previously estimated 4.5million.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates smoking kills about seven million people a year globally.

The researchers found that in Europe air pollution caused an estimated 790,000 deaths, between 40 and 80 percent of them from cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and stroke.

The study, published in the European Heart Journal, focused on ozone and the smallest pollution particles, known as PM2.5, that are breathed into the lungs and may even be able to cross into the blood.

The researchers said new data indicated the hazardous health impact of PM2.5 was much worse than previously thought.

They urged a reduction in the upper limit for PM2.5 in the European Union, which is currently set at 25 micrograms per cubic metre, 2.5 times higher than the WHO guideline.

Whereas participants with sufficient access to services had 22 per cent lower odds for reporting depression over the years.

The researchers also found that stressors – such as a low income – during childhood significantly raised the risk of depression.

But those who grew up with better economic circumstances were still at a high risk of developing depression when living in a noisy and polluted area as adults. 

The authors, led by clinical psychologist Gergő Baranyi, wrote: ‘Providing access to neighbourhood amenities and public transportation, as well as reducing environmental problems in the residential area, present public health opportunities to support healthy ageing.

‘Previous research suggested adverse effects of neighbourhood problems on mental health among older adults, which we were able to confirm.’

Possible mechanisms contributing to higher risk of depression might lead through direct pathways, such as higher levels of inflammation in the blood vessels caused by air pollution, or the stress from living in a noisy or dangerous area, the researchers said.

Depression affects around 22 per cent of men and 28 per cent of women aged 65 years and over in the UK, Mental Health Foundation statistics show.

Around 19.7 per cent of people over 16 showed symptoms of depression or anxiety in 2014, but experts say older people are more vulnerable to mental health problems.

This is a cause for concern as UK population is ageing rapidly, charities say.

What’s more, an estimated 70 per cent of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050, where traffic fumes contribute to high levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and very small particulate matter (PM2.5).

Health experts have urged city planners to design greener cities to improve the public’s mental health because exposure to nature has been shown to improve general wellbeing.

Globally, more than 450million people globally suffer from a mental-health disorder, according to the World Health Organization. 

It’s not the first time pollution has been linked to a psychiatric disorder. A study in March suggested teenagers who live in a polluted cities face a higher risk of developing psychosis. 


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