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Environmental Noise Exposure and Mental Health: Evidence From a Population-Based Longitudinal Study

  • Ang Li
    Correspondence
    Address correspondence to: Ang Li, PhD, NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Healthy Housing, Centre for Health Policy, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, The University of Melbourne, Level 4, 207 Bouverie St, Parkville, Victoria 3010, Australia.
    Affiliations
    NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Healthy Housing, Centre for Health Policy, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia
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  • Erika Martino
    Affiliations
    NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Healthy Housing, Centre for Health Policy, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia
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  • Adelle Mansour
    Affiliations
    NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Healthy Housing, Centre for Health Policy, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia
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  • Rebecca Bentley
    Affiliations
    NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Healthy Housing, Centre for Health Policy, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia
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      Introduction

      Exposure to environmental noise from within homes has been associated with poor mental health. Existing evidence rests on cross-sectional studies prone to residual confounding, reverse causation, and small sample sizes, failing to adequately consider the causal nature of this relationship. Furthermore, few studies have examined the sociodemographic distribution of noise exposure at a country level.

      Methods

      The study, conducted in 2021, examined the impact of environmental noise from road traffic, airplanes, trains, and industry on mental health and psychological distress as reported by 31,387 respondents using a 19-year longitudinal data set in Australia (2001‒2019). To improve the capacity to make causal inference and reduce bias from measurement error, reverse causation, and unobserved confounders, analyses used instrumental variables, fixed-effects models, and an aggregated area-level measure of noise exposure. Utilizing the large-scale national data set, sociospatial distributions of noise exposure were described.

      Results

      Private and public rental tenants, lone parents, residents of socioeconomically disadvantaged areas, and those with long-term health conditions were more likely to report residential noise exposure. This exposure to noise was consistently associated with poorer mental health (self-reported noise: β= −0.58; 95% CI= −0.76, −0.39; area-level noise: β= −0.43; 95% CI= −0.61, −0.26), with the relationship strongest for traffic noise (β= −0.79; 95% CI= −1.07, −0.51). Notably, when noise exposure decreased over time, there was an increase in mental health (β= 0.43; 95% CI= 0.14, 0.72).

      Conclusions

      The study provides strong evidence of a negative mental health effect of perceived residential noise, and the results have implications for healthy home design and urban planning. These findings should be validated with further studies that measure noise intensity and housing quality.
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