Air Quality: Mental and Spiritual Health

the Air, for Life.

Clean Air Day - June 7, 2023

Air Quality: Mental and Spiritual Health

ai generated image of trees emitting smoke like smoke stacks

Poor air quality can also have detrimental impacts on mental health and spiritual well-being.

There’s growing evidence that exposure to daily and long-term air pollution can increase the risk of mental health disorders such as depression, chronic stress, suicide ideation and substance abuse [5]. When outdoor pollutants are present for example, people engage less in physical outdoor activities, an important factor in psychological well-being [5]. Being confined indoors and the fear of being evacuated as a result of poor air quality and wildfires can also induce severe anxiety [6].

Indigenous Peoples are at a greater risk of being displaced by climate related hazards such as wildfires [6]. This can result in a loss of livelihoods, community cohesion, identity and culture, all of which have a profound effect on mental and spiritual well-being [6]. Climate change and poor air quality can detach Indigenous Peoples from their community and traditional territories and disrupt land-based activities and cultural practices which are essential in many communities [6]. All of these factors can lead to feelings of anxiety, grief, anger, helplessness and depression [6].

Evacuations and displacements caused by climate change and poor air quality can also create food and water insecurity, financial hardships, increase stress levels, trigger post-traumatic stress disorder and bring back historical traumas associated with the forced relocation and government interventions in the lives of Indigenous Peoples across Canada [6].

In Canada, First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples bear a disproportionately elevated risk of respiratory diseases as a result of health inequities [6]. This not only increases their vulnerability to the physical health impacts of air pollution but can also negatively impact mental health and well-being [6]. Additionally, many northern and remote communities in Canada do not have access to adequate and regular mental health care providers [6].

The medicine wheel can be used to represent different aspects of an Indigenous worldview. It can be used to visually reflect the holistic goals of an individual or community and the interactions at play between the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual components of life. Because everything is interconnected, when physical health is compromised as a result of air pollution, this affects the balance and harmony of the whole being. Poor air quality represents more than simply toxic chemicals in the air, it disrupts a cultural and spiritual way of being.

If you or someone you know is struggling and would like to speak with someone, Hope for Wellness Helpline is a free 24-hour telephone and online chat service that is available to all Indigenous People across Canada.

air quality and the seven teachings
wisdom - beaver

To cherish clean air is to know WISDOM

Share knowledge with others about the importance of clean air and impacts of air pollution on your community and in your home. 

love - eagle

To know LOVE is to protect your family and community from air pollution

Do your part to implement safety measures at the community and home level in case of extreme weather events, flooding, forest fires, and increased use of wood stoves as your families main source of heating. Plan for annual chimney cleaning and ensure that carbon monoxide and smoke detectors are working properly. 

courage - bear

COURAGE is to face the challenges of air pollution and take action

It takes a community to work together to find solutions to a common issue. Use your voice to create greater awareness on the importance of air quality in the community and in your home. 

respect - buffalo

To honour air is to have RESPECT for those around you and their right to breathe in clean air.  Our four-legged animals, winged, and those that run closest to the earth and swim in our waters deserve respect and a right to clean air. It is our inherent responsibility to be leaders and make good choices in our lives that ensure we reduce our pollution imprint on the earth and waters. 

honesty - sasquatch

HONESTY is to understand our role in air pollution

We each have the ability to change the way we contribute to air pollution by making choices that can reduce air pollution in our communities and in our homes. 

truth - turtle

TRUTH is to advocate for clean air by understanding the health implications of air pollution and sharing this truth with our community and family.  Connect with your leaders in your community and work together to find solutions to start recording air quality at the community level. Create a home air quality wellness plan with your family to ensure all members of your home are aware of the importance of clean air. 

humility - wolf

HUMILITY is to work together to fight air pollution