Ac­tion call on smog, men­tal health link in­voked

Ex­perts urged to col­lab­o­rate on is­sue amid wors­en­ing air pol­lu­tion

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By SHAN JUAN shan­juan@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Se­nior clin­i­cal psy­chi­a­trists have called for closer stud­ies on the neg­a­tive im­pact of smoggy days on men­tal health.

Se­vere pol­lu­tion has been linked to res­pi­ra­tory prob­lems such as asthma and bron­chi­tis, but few peo­ple re­al­ize it could trig­ger “smog de­pres­sion”, said Tian Chenghua, a pro­fes­sor at the In­sti­tute for Psy­chi­atric Re­search at Pek­ing Univer­sity’s No 6 Hos­pi­tal.

He said it is sci­en­tif­i­cally proved that some types of de­pres­sion are closely as­so­ci­ated with con­di­tions such as sea­sonal change and lack of sun­light. Th­ese are re­lated to the pro­duc­tion of the hor­mone mela­tonin, which light­ens skin pig­men­ta­tion.

Bei­jing En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Bureau said on Thurs­day that the cap­i­tal saw 58 days of se­ri­ous pol­lu­tion in the past year, with res­i­dents en­dur­ing on av­er­age a smoggy day ev­ery six to seven days.

PM 2.5 — air­borne par­tic­u­late mat­ter smaller than 2.5 mi­crom­e­ters in di­am­e­ter — is the ma­jor pol­lu­tant on most of th­ese days, with the worst pol­lu­tion oc­cur­ring in au­tumn and win­ter, the bureau said.

“China lacks sci­en­tific stud­ies and in­ves­ti­ga­tions into how smog re­lates to hu­man emo­tions and men­tal health,” Tian said.

“Ex­perts in pub­lic health and clin­i­cal psy­chi­a­try could col­lab­o­rate on this to bet­ter pro­tect phys­i­cal and men­tal health amid wors­en­ing air pol­lu­tion.”

Pu Chengcheng, a psy­chi­a­trist at the hos­pi­tal, said cases of in­creased anx­i­ety and feel­ings of hope­less­ness caused by weather con­di­tions such as smog, cloudy skies, rain and lack of sun­light are no longer rare.

“On se­ri­ously smoggy days, we sug­gest that pa­tients, par­tic­u­larly those with de­pres­sion, stay in­doors and turn on the lights, even in the day­time,” Pu said on Thurs­day.

Xiao Lei, a univer­sity stu­dent in Bei­jing, who has had de­pres­sion for two years, told China Daily that smoggy weather af­fects her mood.

“On days of con­tin­u­ous smog, I feel de­spair. It’s as if my life is shrouded in the cloy­ing haze,” said the 24-year-old, who was ad­mit­ted to a hos­pi­tal af­ter at­tempt­ing sui­cide.

Pu said some pa­tients with de­pres­sion are more sen­si­tive to smoggy weather that can af­fect their mood.

Xiao added that sun­shine can bring her con­sid­er­able com­fort. “I am think­ing about leav­ing Bei­jing for some­where with a bet­ter en­vi­ron­ment, par­tic­u­larly the air qual­ity,” she said.

On se­ri­ously smoggy days, we sug­gest that pa­tients, par­tic­u­larly those with de­pres­sion, stay in­doors and turn on the lights, even in the day­time.” PU CHENGCHENG PSY­CHI­A­TRIST

Tian said that de­spite a lack of sci­en­tific data in China di­rectly link­ing men­tal prob­lems with smog, sim­i­lar stud­ies on weather and emo­tional and men­tal health are not rare in­ter­na­tion­ally. He urged that more at­ten­tion be fo­cused on the is­sue.

He cited sea­sonal af­fec­tive dis­or­der, also widely known as win­ter de­pres­sion and com­mon­place in north­ern Europe, as an ex­am­ple.

In Novem­ber 2012, the town of Umea in north­ern Swe­den be­gan in­stalling pho­tother­apy lights at bus stops to help com­bat the shorter days and lack of sun­light.

A study pub­lished in the med­i­cal jour­nal Neu­ropsy­chi­a­try and Clin­i­cal Neu­ro­sciences in 2005 es­ti­mated that win­ter de­pres­sion in Swe­den af­fected 8 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion.

Wang Jian, a lead­ing psy­chi­a­trist at Bei­jing Hui­long­guan Hos­pi­tal, a men­tal in­sti­tute in the cap­i­tal, de­fines the men­tal im­pact of weather phe­nom­ena, in­clud­ing smog, as “eco­log­i­cal pres­sure”.

“This, like so­cial and spir­i­tual pres­sure, could heighten neg­a­tive feel­ings, fear and anx­i­ety for both the healthy and those with men­tal prob­lems,” Wang said.

“For men­tal pa­tients, par­tic­u­larly those with de­pres­sion and neu­ro­sis, smog can trig­ger some symp­toms and worsen the sit­u­a­tion, he said.

“We’ve seen some ex­treme cases where peo­ple with de­pres­sion have com­mit­ted sui­cide due to bad weather,” he said.

But he pointed out that not all pa­tients with men­tal health prob­lems are af­fected by bad weather.

“Learn­ing more about the link could help us to avert men­tal health risks posed by bad weather,” Wang said.

The Hui­long­guan hos­pi­tal plans to con­duct sur­veys on the is­sue among pa­tients.

“The healthy might also be in­cluded in such sur­veys, par­tic­u­larly those work­ing long hours out­doors like traf­fic po­lice,” Wang said.

World­wide, stud­ies on smog and its im­pact on men­tal health have be­gun to ap­pear in re­cent years but re­mained lim­ited.

Re­search in 2011 by Ohio State Univer­sity in the US found that ex­po­sure to smog causes de­pres­sion and learn­ing prob­lems.

Sci­en­tists from the univer­sity’s neu­ro­science depart­ment have con­cluded that smog al­ters the brain’s com­po­si­tion, and can lead to loss of mem­ory and de­pres­sion. Zheng Xin con­trib­uted to this story.

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