Purpose: The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently ranked air pollution as the major environmental cause of premature death. However, the significant potential health and societal costs of poor mental health in relation to air quality are not represented in the WHO report due to limited evidence. We aimed to test the hypothesis that long-term exposure to air pollution is associated with poor mental health. 

Methods: A prospective longitudinal population-based mental health survey was conducted of 1698 adults living in 1075 households in South East London, from 2008 to 2013. High-resolution quarterly average air pollution concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO 2) and oxides (NO x), ozone (O 3), particulate matter with an aerodynamic diameter < 10 μm (PM 10) and < 2.5 μm (PM 2.5) were linked to the home addresses of the study participants. Associations with mental health were analysed with the use of multilevel generalised linear models, after adjusting for large number of confounders, including the individuals’ socioeconomic position and exposure to road-traffic noise. 

Results: We found robust evidence for interquartile range increases in PM 2.5, NO x and NO 2 to be associated with 18–39% increased odds of common mental disorders, 19–30% increased odds of poor physical symptoms and 33% of psychotic experiences only for PM 10. These longitudinal associations were more pronounced in the subset of non-movers for NO 2 and NO x

Conclusions: The findings suggest that traffic-related air pollution is adversely affecting mental health. Whilst causation cannot be proved, this work suggests substantial morbidity from mental disorders could be avoided with improved air quality.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages13
JournalSocial Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology
Issue number9
Early online date24 Oct 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 24 Oct 2020


  • Air quality
  • Common mental disorders
  • Mixed models
  • Psychotic experiences
  • Urban health


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