Mold and Mental Health

Posted by Angela Ostroff on 16 November, 2016

In October of 2007, American Journal of Public Health published a study conducted by Brown University with results so unexpected, even its lead researcher admitted he was taken aback. This report examined a link that had been established by other small-scale research, but, until that moment, had never been taken seriously.

The findings? There is an indisputable statistical correlation between depression and living in a home infested by mold.

Now, to echo a statement that you’ve undoubtedly heard many times: correlation does not equal causation. Oftentimes, in facts, correlations are actually the results of one common underlying cause. In other cases, even if causation is possible, it is difficult to tell which circumstanced caused the other. However, part of what made this study so interesting is that a serious effort was made to factor out variables that could cause misleading results.

For example, living in a mold-infested home could be the result of low socioeconomic status--another factor that correlates with depression, but one that many people would argue is a much more logical culprit for causation.

Cold, damp, climates are another factor associated with mold and with depression--making such weather another complication for those wishing to find a causal relationship between mold and mental health issues.

In order to be as objective as possible, however, the aforementioned study controlled for variables such as weather and socioeconomic status. When the results still found correlation, therefore, the possibility that the relationship between mold and depression could be causal seemed more plausible than ever.

Could mold really be a physiological cause of issues such as depression and anxiety? Those who believe that it could generally divided into one of two groups:

  • Some argue for direct causation: it is conceivable, though not completely established, that the toxicity of certain mold spores could harm the brain and create a chemical imbalance responsible for higher instances of depression.
  • Others argue that mold does cause higher rates of depression, but only indirectly. They point to well-established scientific data proving that mold can aggravate respiratory health issues such as asthma, allergies, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and argue that the rapid deterioration of such conditions brought about by mold exposure could be a cause of depression for many people.

In conclusion, any kind of true causal link between depression and mold exposure will be hard to establish or debunk, but it is certainly a possibility, and one that the medical community continues to explore. In the meantime, it is worthwhile to point out that depression, like all health conditions, is ultimately the result of a convergence of factors. The possibility that mold and its negative effects could contribute to depression is entirely feasible, and it simply underscores the already well-established importance of treating mold infestations quickly and effectively.

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