Scientists find link between wildfire smoke and rising suicide rates in rural areas

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We all know air pollution can damage our lungs and heart, but what about our minds? New research sheds light on a frightening reality:

Air pollution from wildfire smoke could increase the likelihood of people in rural areas taking their own lives.

The study and its results

David Molitor, a professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, along with experts from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and Monash University in Australia, studied the connection between air pollution and suicide rates.

They examined US data from 2007 to 2019, including suicide records and air quality reports. What they found was alarming.

In rural areas, a 10 percent increase in airborne particles—what we often call “particulate matter”—led to an average 1.5 percent increase in suicide rates.

Interestingly, this effect was not observed in urban areas. The higher risk appeared to particularly affect two groups in rural areas: working-age white men and adults without a college education.

“This is further evidence that air pollution can also affect our mental well-being,” Molitor said. “It’s not just about coughs and heart problems; it is also linked to serious problems such as depression, anxiety and now suicide.”

Why it’s more important now than ever

Forest fires won’t go away. In fact, they are expected to worsen in once-wild areas due to climate change and human activities.

This means more and more people will be exposed to unhealthy levels of air pollution.

Molitor warns that ignoring this issue could be a big mistake.

“Our results show that exposure to air pollution affects mental health, which in turn leads to more deaths by suicide. Policymakers cannot afford to turn a blind eye to this,” he said.

This research also sheds new light on the ongoing “national mental health crisis” in the United States, where suicide rates have increased by about 30% over the past two decades.

Suicide rates are already higher in rural areas than in cities, and that gap is only growing.

What can be done?

By understanding that air pollution has harmful effects on physical and mental health, we can figure out how to better protect people, especially those who are more vulnerable.

It could also encourage lawmakers to take action to reduce air pollution from sources like wildfires.

At a time when both wildfires and mental health issues are on the rise, this research is a wake-up call. It shows us that cleaning our air isn’t just about keeping our bodies healthy; It’s also about protecting our minds.

If you are interested in depression, please read studies about suicide attempts during depression, which are associated with a higher risk of death Vitamin D could help relieve symptoms of depression.

For more information on mental health, see recent studies Highly processed foods can make you feel depressed. And These antioxidants could help reduce the risk of dementia.

The research results can be found in the PNAS.

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Laura Coffey

Laura Coffey is a Worldtimetodays U.S. News Reporter based in Canada. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Laura Coffey joined Worldtimetodays in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing:

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