According to the World Health Organization, matters of mental health, like anxiety, depression and mood disorders are some of the leading causes of declining health and increased levels of disability in adolescents. There is also strong evidence suggesting that poor air quality and high levels of pollution can be directly related to mental health issues.
It's no secret that California, specifically the Central Valley, has some of the worst air quality in the country. How is the mental health of the people who live here fairing?
Exposure to pollution is accountable for as many as 7 million deaths annually, and it’s no secret that smog and pollution cause physical health issues. Ask anyone living in the valley and they will likely tell you they’ve dealt with asthma or allergies, or both.
Pollution is also associated with more serious cardiovascular, respiratory and neurological issues. These are the physical tolls of pollution, and while there is less research on the mental health tolls, scientists and researchers seem to be in agreement that poor air quality can directly negatively impact a person's mental health.
As someone who has grown up in the Central Valley and lived here my whole life, and as someone whose immediate family continues to struggle with issues of anxiety and depression, I wonder if we would be among the people that would directly benefit from a change in air quality and higher regard for the environment.
A study published by Scientific Reports came to the conclusion that the ideal time for a person to spend outside was from 120-300 minutes per week. People who followed this guideline were more likely to be in better health and have better overall well-being.
But for those of us who live in the Central Valley, is it even possible for us to follow this rule? Or are we too restricted by days of completely unhealthy air?
Los Angeles, the most populous city in California and second most populous city in the country was recorded as having had only 41 good quality air days in 2021, as compared to the 325 days where the air quality was reported as being between “moderate” and “very unhealthy or hazardous.”
Unfortunately, I was unable to find this kind of data available for the city of Fresno specifically. Considering all the pollution, smog and smoke from wildflowers deposited into our valley, I’d imagine our statistics look just as bad even though we have less population density.
I wish there was something we could all individually do to solve bad air quality, but truthfully I think everyone is already doing their best to be environmentally thoughtful. I’m sure most of us would be willing to walk, bike or wheel to work if we lived in walkable cities. It would be much easier to reduce pollution by switching to solar-powered energy if it were at all possible to make that change without having to spend thousands. We could all grow our own gardens if we were given adequate time away from work while still being able to afford all of the necessities of living.
This story was produced by The kNOw and is part of a collaborative project “You’re Not Alone” that includes content from young journalists from Boyle Heights Beat, Coachella Unincorporated, The kNOw, Richmond Pulse, Voices of Monterey Bay, We’Ced and YR Media.