Mold and Mood:
Study connects mold and depression

UPdate Fall 2007

A groundbreaking public health study has identified a connection between damp, moldy homes and depression. The study, led by Brown University epidemiologist Edmond Shenassa, is the largest study to investigate the association between mold and mood. The results came as a complete surprise to researchers. The research team set out to disprove earlier UK studies, which suggest that such a link exists. Instead, “we found a solid association between depression and living in a damp, moldy home”, reported Shenassa, associate professor in Brown’s Department of Community Health.

“What the study makes clear is the importance of housing as an indicator of health, including mental health,” Shenassa said. “Healthy homes can promote healthy lives.” Information was drawn from a study of housing, health and place of residence conducted by the World Health Organization. Data was drawn from nearly 6000 European adults. The study was not designed to determine whether mold is the direct cause of depression. Information from the study points to two likely causes for a link between mold and depression. One factor is a perceived lack of control over the housing environment. The other is mold-related health problems, such as wheezing, fatigue and a cold or throat illness.

“Physical health, and perceptions of control, are linked with an elevated risk for depression,” Shenassa said, “ and that makes sense. If you are sick from mold and feel you can’t get rid of it, it may affect your mental health.”

Shenassa and his team want to conduct additional research to examine whether mold is a direct cause of depression. Shenassa said that given the results of the current study, he wouldn’t be surprised if there is a cause-and-effect association. He notes that molds are toxins, and some research has indicated that these toxins can affect the nervous system or the immune system or impede the function of the frontal cortex, the part of the brain that plays a part in impulse control, memory, problem solving, sexual behavior, socialization and spontaneity.