Academic journal article Iranian Journal of Public Health

Effect of Air Pollution and Rural-Urban Difference on Mental Health of the Elderly in China

Academic journal article Iranian Journal of Public Health

Effect of Air Pollution and Rural-Urban Difference on Mental Health of the Elderly in China

Article excerpt

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China has the largest elderly population in the world. The health of the elderly has elicited con-siderable social attention. With the social and eco-nomic development, health care conditions and living standards improve continuously, thus im-proving the physical health of the elderly and pro-longing their life span. According to statistics from the Chinese Ministry of Health, in 60 years of development, the average life span has in-creased by 39.5 years, reaching 74.8 years old in 2010 (1). However, mental health problems of the elderly are increasingly becoming prominent. Re-ports show that 74 million Chinese elderly suffer serious depressive symptoms (2). Serious psycho-logical problems not only hurt physical and mental health and family happiness of the elderly, but also cause various social problems. Mentally and phys-ically healthy old people save public resources and national finance. Being healthy enables the elderly to maintain high productivity and contribute to society. Therefore, studying the mental health of the Chinese elderly is important.

Since the reform and opening-up policy, China has sacrificed high environmental cost for rapid economic development, consequently bringing serious threats to public health. Approximately 300,000 to 500,000 people are killed early by in-door air pollution every year in China (3). How-ever, controversy has arisen in the academe con-cerning the effect of air pollution on mental health. The tradeoffbetween rapid economic develop-ment and environmental degradation has compli-cated this controversy (4). Economic development improves the quality of living and social welfare, and thereby, improves the mental health of the public. However, with the further worsening of environmental problems, its negative effects on people's mental health have gradually surfaced. Such a complicated relationship introduces diffi-culties in comprehending the influence of air pol-lution and other environmental problems on men-tal health. Meanwhile, China is a country with an outstanding urban-rural dual structure. Significant differences occur between urban and rural regions in terms of medical insurance, living standards, social culture, and lifestyle. Whether those differ-ences will be reflected on the mental health level of the elderly in urban and rural areas is an im-portant question to be considered when studying the mental health of Chinese elderly. Thus, this paper addresses three problems by using data from China, namely, 1) Will air pollution influence the mental health of the elderly? How? 2) Is men-tal health different between the elderly from urban and rural regions? In what ways? 3) Which factors determine the psychological disorder of the elder-ly?

Literature review

Medical and sociological research reported that the SO2 concentration in air would threaten physi-cal health and even cause respiratory system dis-eases (5). Being healthy is not only being free from diseases or weakness, but also the perfect combination of body, mental, and social adapta-tion (6). Hence, research on health also focuses on mental health. Clark et al. studied the 9 to 10-year-old British children and noted that air pollution (NO2) in schools will not influence their cognition and health. After the NO2 level was controlled, they found that aircraftnoise and road traffic noise have significant different effects on cogni-tion and health of children (7). A study on 1,546 samples collected from Salt Lake County, Utah, USA found that higher SO2 and NO2 particles would increase risks of suicide (8). From a medical perspective, tiny particles in air pollution will hurt the nervus centralis in humans after entering the brain and may cause depression and apoplexy (9).

Considering the physiological and psychological differences of the elderly with children and youth, the relationship between the mental health of the elderly and air pollution has elicited considerable attention in medical research attention. …

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