Tackling air pollution to protect mental health

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Reducing air pollution is one of the key reasons to get passengers back on coaches and buses as the economy re-starts. Following on from Mental Health Awareness Week (10-16 May), Matthew Johnson considers the impact of air pollution on mental health and what we can do to address the issue as cities open up following Covid-19

One of the defining images from the past year was the sight of the world’s great cities standing empty, as people around the globe were ordered to stay home to stop the spread of Covid-19.
The desertion of our cities led to a striking reduction in air pollution, with the Centre for Cities reporting a 60% drop during the first lockdown in some areas of the UK and reports of 150 fewer air pollution-related deaths in Spain in the same period.

The physical impacts of air pollution are well reported – it’s now considered to be the world’s largest environmental health threat, accounting for almost nine million deaths every year and reducing life expectancy by an average of 2.9 years for people across the globe.

But the impact on mental health is often overlooked. A recent study in London found that increases in the key air pollutants – PM2.5, NOx and NO2 – are associated with up to 39% increased odds of common mental disorders. As lockdown restrictions ease and our cities begin to come back to life, governments around the world must take action now to tackle the air pollution crisis and protect our physical and mental health.

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