Air pollution and suicide in rural and urban America: Evidence from wildfire smoke

David Molitor, Jamie T Mullens, Corey White

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Air pollution poses well-established risks to physical health, but little is known about its effects on mental health. We study the relationship between wildfire smoke exposure and suicide risk in the United States in 2007 to 2019 using data on all deaths by suicide and satellite-based measures of wildfire smoke and ambient fine particulate matter (PM2.5) concentrations. We identify the causal effects of wildfire smoke pollution on suicide by relating year-over-year fluctuations in county-level monthly smoke exposure to fluctuations in suicide rates and compare the effects across local areas and demographic groups that differ considerably in their baseline suicide risk. In rural counties, an additional day of smoke increases monthly mean PM2.5 by 0.41 μg/m3 and suicide deaths by 0.11 per million residents, such that a 1-μg/m3 (13%) increase in monthly wildfire-derived fine particulate matter leads to 0.27 additional suicide deaths per million residents (a 2.0% increase). These effects are concentrated among demographic groups with both high baseline suicide risk and high exposure to outdoor air: men, working-age adults, non-Hispanic Whites, and adults with no college education. By contrast, we find no evidence that smoke pollution increases suicide risk among any urban demographic group. This study provides large-scale evidence that air pollution elevates the risk of suicide, disproportionately so among rural populations.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2221621120
Pages (from-to)e2221621120
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Issue number38
StatePublished - Sep 19 2023


  • air pollution
  • environmental economics
  • wildfire smoke
  • suicide
  • mental health

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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