BAYONNE: Today marks World Suicide Prevention Day; this day is celebrated on a yearly basis to raise awareness that suicide can be prevented.
Links between air pollution, depression and mental disorders, and the possibility of averting suicide through reducing the emissions of polluting gases and particulate matters are all issues for consideration and discussion, particularly during this day.
For decades, various problems and diseases have been associated with air pollution including allergies, bronchial diseases, asthma attacks, skin or lung cancers, and cardiovascular problems among others. In the last few years, scientific studies are also considering air pollution as one of various risk factors leading to mental disorders, severe depression, and suicides.
According to a report published by the ‘International Journal of Occupational Medicine and Environmental Health’, there’s a correlation between poor air quality and psychiatric conditions. “It has been shown that the number of suicide attempts is increasing during the period of the highest concentrations of particulate matter in the atmosphere” asserts the report.
Some experimental studies have confirmed that particular matters under 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5 - one of the components of air pollution coming from airplanes, motor vehicle, agricultural burning and forest fires) leads to deteriorating changes in the brain due to the cell death of neurons. Moreover, some researches have shown that Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2), and to Ozone (O3) are linked to the onset of symptoms of depression among elderlies. These studies prove that toxic gases and particular matters released in the air lead to mental disorders and severe depression. Furthermore, studies conducted in Germany and China were able to demonstrate that people living in less polluted areas tend to be happier.
However, other studies debate that the association of air pollution to increased suicide rates is interesting, however, the link is still weak. These studies assert that more research is required to prove the relation between air pollution and having suicidal thoughts as this link could be influenced by confounding factors such as age, medical history, quality of life and employment.
The relation between air pollution and suicide may still be blurred, however, air pollution is certainly a major cause of diseases and mortality worldwide. The World Health Organization states that air pollution is attributed to the death of approximately 7 million people every year. Therefore, reducing pollution certainly would have positive impacts on human health.
“More researches may be needed to be able to link air pollution to rising suicide rates, as suicide is a complex and serious issue but it is certain that improving air quality has overall health benefits including mental health” argues a French researcher in the field of air pollution and health. He adds “even if people are still skeptical about the association of increased pollution to rising suicide rates, preventative measures must be taken. It is better to be safe than sorry; what if the link between suicide and air pollution proved to be accurate? Would it make sense to take reactive measures decades later?”
Lebanon carries a double burden. On one hand, according to ArcGIS, the country’s percentage of air pollution is 75.98%, which is an alarming situation as it could have serious consequences on people’s well-being and mental health.
The Internal Security Forces revealed that, in Lebanon, every 6 hours a person attempts to take away his own life and suicide cases have increased from 143 case in 2017 to 200 cases in 2018.
As researches have shown, suicide is complex and is not only linked to one factor, various risk factors come into play including health, social and economic factors. However, the current evidence associating air pollution to mental impairment and severe depression begs the question: Could pollution reduction be key to preventing suicide?
Reem Khamis graduated from the Lebanese American University with a Bachelor Degree in Architecture and got her Master's Degree in Environmental and Energy Management from the University of Twente in the Netherlands. Her thesis focuses on urban resilience and climate change adaptation in megacities using a comparative approach of Cairo, London, and New York. Khamis is currently doing her Ph.D. in Environmental and Energy Solutions at the University of Pau and Pays de L'Adour in France.
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