Noise pollution’s effect on mental health
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07-16-15 Category: Mental Health, Therapy


Having the ability to hear various stimuli is an important aspect of life. Although a significant population of deaf and hearing-impaired individuals proves that this sense is not absolutely essential for daily living, many aspects of society involve the use of sound, from spoken language to music and other auditory cues. A history of observation has shown that hearing influences communication, cognition and other sectors of a person’s psychological health. Losing this capacity early on can greatly impact academic progression and future job opportunities, leading to a list of additional challenges as well. Given its significance to how many human beings function, a collection of different research endeavors may reveal the drawbacks of sound, especially when it is unwanted.

Undesirable auditory stimulation is commonly classified as noise. Especially within a modern context, people are flooded by a constant barrage of disrupting auditory activity, including but not limited to construction work, car honking and countless notifications from digital devices. In some cases, consensual sources of sound can also be excessive. In fact, people are collectively exposed to higher amounts of audio output during their leisure time. Listening to music with headphones at high volumes is a common practice, while many others attend concerts and night clubs with echoing live performances.

In addition to the plethora of medical problems that can result from noise, excessive exposure can also lead to impaired performance and other mental disturbances. A 2003 study found that noise at different degrees had a pronounced effect on performing different activities. The research team noticed that complex mental tasks were vulnerable to ‘irrelevant speech,’ which suggests that speaking, reading and other actions that rely on memory have a heightened risk of impairment. Lacking control of environmental sounds impaired task accomplishment as well. Overall, experiments like these show that irrelevant stimuli can limit supportive behavior and increase distracting emotions such as aggression.

A number of scientific examples have explored the role of noise on developing different psychological disorders. In fact, the same 2003 study also focused on the topic of annoyance as a response to sonic stimuli. Researchers proposed that experiencing it on a frequent basis can systematically shift a person’s wellness into illness. However, while annoyance is typically expressed through fear, anger and a belief that one is being harmed or intruded upon, the relationship between distressing sounds and destructive thoughts, emotions and behaviors is still unconfirmed. While a direct link between noise and pathology is not well-documented, the study did uncover numerous ties to psychological symptoms.

Managing exposure to auditory stimulation

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends the following precautionary guidelines when measuring and managing an individual’s exposure to loud sounds. These auditory stimuli and their intensities are counted in decibels (dB):

  • Exposure to sound levels less than 70 dB does not cause any harm to hearing, regardless of the duration of exposure.
  • Exposure for more than 8 hours to sound levels in excess of 85 dB is potentially hazardous, which is equivalent to the noise of a busy road with heavy traffic.
  • Unprotected exposure to sound levels greater than 100 dB should be limited in duration and frequency. Sounds of this nature include jackhammering or a running snowmobile.
  • The threshold for pain is at about 140 dB, which is reachable with extreme actions like gunfire, firecrackers and similar sources of intense noise.
  • Sounds greater than 165 dB are likely to cause acute cochlear damage, even if the noise lasts for a few milliseconds.

Sovereign Health Group, a leader in mental health services, is constantly tuned into the pulse of the state’s most pressing mental and behavioral health issues. As the home to Hollywood and other hubs of entertainment, Sovereign is well aware of the possible sights and sounds that can negatively influence the mind and lead to disorders. If you or a loved one struggles with considerable stress, anxiety or other psychological pain concerning your environment, please contact a consultant via live chat or call for more information on our programs for mental health disorders, addiction and co-occurring disorders.

Written by Lee Yates, Sovereign Health Group writer

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