Air Pollution Levels Show Correlations to Suicide Rates

Rob Wipond
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Increases in air pollution have strong links to increases in suicide rates, according to research by a team from the Sungkyunkwan University School of Medicine in Korea.

Publishing in PLOS One, the researchers examined pollution data from 251 sites in 79 cities in Korea, and compared it to suicide numbers in 16 regions. They compensated for other potential influences on suicide rates such as celebrity suicides and economic downturns.

“Of the 5 major pollutants examined, ozone concentrations had a powerful association with suicide rate, extending back to 4 weeks,” they wrote. “Over the range of 2 standard deviations (SD) around the annual mean ozone concentration, the adjusted suicide rate increased by an estimated 7.8% of the annual mean rate. Particulate matter pollution also had a significant effect, strongest with a 4-week lag, equivalent to 3.6% of the annual mean rate over the same 2 SD range that approximated the half of annual observed range.”

“These results strongly suggest deleterious effects of ozone and particulate matter pollution on the major public health problem of suicide,” the researchers concluded.

Kim, Youngdon, Woojae Myung, Hong-Hee Won, Sanghong Shim, Hong Jin Jeon, Junbae Choi, Bernard J. Carroll, and Doh Kwan Kim. “Association between Air Pollution and Suicide in South Korea: A Nationwide Study.” PLoS ONE 10, no. 2 (February 18, 2015): e0117929. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0117929. (Full text)

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Rob Wipond
Rob Wipond is a Victoria, British Columbia-based freelance journalist who has been writing on mental health issues for fifteen years. His research has particularly focused on the interfaces between psychiatry, the justice system, and civil rights. His articles have been nominated for three Canadian National Magazine Awards, six Western Magazine Awards, and four Jack Webster Awards for journalism. He can be contacted through his website.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Not sure how this leads to anything practical, seems to distract more than anything. We’re grasping at straws–and costly ones at that–to deflect personal responsibility. Hmmm, what can we blame now so we’re not forced to look in the mirror and take a good, hardy, and truthful look at ourselves? That’s the only way things in the mental health world are going to get unstuck.

      • I can’t even wrap my mind around the genetic factor, that’s just so fatalistic. I thought depression was a natural response to living in an unjust, unsafe, and violent world. Buddhists teach detachment, which, in this case, I think would be a viable remedy. Then, we can get the information we need to move forward with relative ease. That’s what those teachings are all about.

    • Actually, medicine has been focused on lifestyle and ignoring environmental threats to health, many of which have been known for a long, long time. We are all ever and always inextricably bound to our environments. Cleaning up and preventing pollution and noxious contamination is as important to our health as personal choices, if not more so, in some cases. Consider radiation and other elements that we cannot be immune to, and go from there.

  2. a) does anyone need to be convinced that air pollution is bad?
    b) global warming is caused by fewer people becoming pirates… except that it isn’t
    You can correlate a lot of things to a lot of other things and show almost any relationship you like.

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