Environmentally-Triggered Mental Illness

Dr. Adrienne Sprouse

Dr. Adrienne Sprouse

Environmentally-Triggered Mental Illness
Did you ever think that mental illness could be caused by chemicals? Signs of mental illness include depression, mania, anxiety, hallucinations, memory loss, poor concentration, and mood swings… to name a few. Although some of these symptoms were once thought to be genetic or the inevitable result of aging, medical science has determined that some of these very symptoms can be caused by environmental chemicals.
Organic solvents comprise a large category of chemicals and are found in dry cleaning fluids, paint and paint thinners, nail polish and nail polish removers, adhesives, stain removers, detergents, petroleum products, pesticides, in the manufacture of chemicals, and even in some medications. Exposure to benzene, for example, has been reported to cause anxiety and insomnia. Do you use a swimming pool? Methyl chloride, which can be found in chlorinated pools, can cause depression, anxiety, agitation, poor concentration, and memory loss.

You may be surprised to know that pesticides come in several classes including organophosphates, organochlorines, carbamates, pyrethroids, DEET, and newer pesticides. Exposure to pesticides can cause a wide range of psychiatric symptoms including agitation, paranoia, psychosis, dementia…and even death.

According to psychiatrist James S. Brown, Jr., MD, MPH, the neurotoxic (nerve poisoning) heavy metals of greatest notoriety and importance to clinical practice are aluminum, arsenic, lead, manganese, mercury, thallium, and tin. Exposure to all of these metals can cause agitation, poor concentration, personality change, and memory loss. Additional symptoms include:

Mood swings-Aluminum, lead, manganese, and mercury

Depression- Aluminum, lead, mercury, thallium, and tin

Anxiety- Aluminum, arsenic, lead, manganese, mercury, and thallium

Irritability- Aluminum, arsenic, mercury, thallium, and tin


Mania-lead, mercury, and tin

Violence- Aluminum, lead, mercury, thallium, and tin

Shyness/Social Withdrawal-Mercury

Bizarre behavior- Aluminum, and arsenic

Suicidal- Aluminum, arsenic, lead, and mercury

Homicidal- Aluminum and mercury

Confusion- Aluminum, lead, thallium, and tin

Hallucinations- Aluminum, arsenic, lead, manganese, thallium, and tin

Insomnia- Aluminum, lead, manganese, thallium, and tin

Developmental delay-Lead, thallium, and tin.

(Brown JS. Psychiatric Issues in Toxic Exposures. 2007 Psychiatr Clin N Am 30 837-854. )

Have you been exposed to toxic gases? Carbon monoxide is present with some kerosene heaters, wood stoves, gas stoves, automobile exhaust, and improper use of portable electrical generators used during power losses from hurricanes. Hydrogen sulfide is released from sewage sludge, liquid manure, sulfur hot springs, natural gas, and is a by-product of many industrial processes such as oil refining, mining, and rayon manufacturing. These two gases can cause a wide range of psychiatric symptoms including anxiety, depression, agitation, confusion, mania, violence…symptoms similar to those produced by heavy metal exposure.

Many environmental items contain more than one category of neurotoxin.   If you’ve had your floors finished with polyurethane, then you’ve been exposed to both solvents and carbamates, a pesticide.  Using a poorly ventilated gas stove can expose you to methane  (a solvent) and  carbon monoxide. Molds emit a wide array of solvents (benzene, hexane, etc.) as well as trichothecenes (an epoxide.)   Many pesticides also contain  solvents.

Parkinsons Disease can be caused by exposure to pesticides , solvents, and some medications.  Bipolar Disorder and schizophrenia can be caused by exposure to solvents.  Depression has been linked to pesticides. The more exposures to neurotoxins, the greater the risk of developing environmentally-triggered mental illness.

The good news is that medical treatment is available to clear toxic chemicals from the body and to restore health. An Environmental Medicine Physician is trained to take a thorough  medical history which could reveal the true cause of psychiatric symptoms.  Many neurotoxic chemicals can be measured in the blood or urine.  For a list of Environmental Physicians, contact the American Academy of Environmental Medicine at www.aaemonline.org

Please visit  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23784607 for Dr. Sprouse’s journal article on bipolar disorder caused by organic solvents.


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