A systematic review of arsenic exposure and its social and mental health effects with special reference to Bangladesh

Johanna Brinkel, Mobarak H Khan, Alexander Kraemer
International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 2009, 6 (5): 1609-19
Underground water in many regions of the world is contaminated with high concentrations of arsenic and the resulting toxicity has created a major environmental and public health problem in the affected regions. Chronic arsenic exposure can cause many diseases, including various physical and psychological harms. Although the physical problems caused by arsenic toxicity are well reported in literature, unfortunately the consequences of arsenic exposure on mental health are not adequately studied. Therefore we conducted a review of the available literature focusing on the social consequences and detrimental effects of arsenic toxicity on mental health. Chronic arsenic exposures have serious implications for its victims (i.e. arsenicosis patients) and their families including social instability, social discrimination, refusal of victims by community and families, and marriage-related problems. Some studies conducted in arsenic affected areas revealed that arsenic exposures are associated with various neurologic problems. Chronic arsenic exposure can lead to mental retardation and developmental disabilities such as physical, cognitive, psychological, sensory and speech impairments. As health is defined by the World Health Organization as "a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing", the social dimensions have a large impact on individual's mental health. Furthermore studies in China und Bangladesh have shown that mental health problems (e.g. depression) are more common among the people affected by arsenic contamination. Our study indicates various neurological, mental and social consequences among arsenic affected victims. Further studies are recommended in arsenic-affected areas to understand the underlying mechanisms of poor mental health caused by arsenic exposure.

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