This new year, five people who use mental health services shared their inspiring quit smoking journey, to show that stopping smoking while experiencing a mental health condition can be done.
The videos of their stories, produced by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), with the Addiction & Mental Health Group based in the Department of Psychology at the University of Bath with colleagues at the University of York, are all available online.
According to recent research from Dr Gemma Taylor from Bath's Department of Psychology, nearly a third of smokers in the UK have a mental health condition, this is substantially higher than the smoking rate in the general population. Smoking is also associated with an increased risk of major depression and other mental health conditions, and there is strong evidence that smoking could be a cause of mental illnesses like depression and schizophrenia.
Latest research suggests that too often people with mental health conditions are discouraged from trying to quit smoking by health professionals. However, smoking is the largest single contributor to the 10 - 20 year reduction in life expectancy among people with mental health conditions compared to the population as a whole.
The new videos feature five people with mental health conditions and cover themes of anxiety, depression, schizophrenia and eating disorders. They show how people with mental health conditions can quit smoking with the right support, and demonstrate how much quitting smoking improved their lives and wellbeing.
I remember saying to my psychiatrist that I wanted to quit smoking... I was constantly smoking as there was nothing else to do. He said, ‘let’s just do one thing at a time’. So, let’s get my mental health under control and then look at quitting smoking. That for me was the green light to keep on smoking.
Some of the people in the videos took part in the groundbreaking SCIMITAR trial, where they were offered a support package specifically designed for people who use mental health services. Led by the University of York, the SCIMITAR trial showed that, with support, smokers with mental health conditions could double their chances of successfully quitting.
Population studies show that quitting smoking is linked to improvements in mental health equal to taking anti-depressants. Based on these findings, Dr Taylor is now working with NHS psychological services to integrate smoking cessation treatment as part of routine care for depression and anxiety for people who want to quit smoking.
The mental health system fails in the sense that it tries to deal with one issue as the main one. A more holistic approach needs to be taken because sometimes everything is interconnected. I was being helped with my mental wellbeing but was still chain smoking, so I felt more depressed and got more unwell. I think the services have to work together in more of a joint approach.
Dr Taylor explained: “We know that people with mental health conditions are more likely to smoke and we know too that smoking is associated with increased challenges to their mental health. These new videos with the results from clinical trials and cohort studies show that this does not need to be the case. For those starting 2020 with a positive resolution to kick the habit, it’s important to know that this is possible, and that help is at hand.”
Deborah Arnott, CEO, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) added: “At the turn of a decade we are encouraging smokers to try a new year quit attempt to help improve their mental and overall health. Mental health staff have a pivotal role to play and they should take every opportunity to help their patients quit. The ex-smokers in the films show that people with mental health conditions can quit smoking with the right support, but also that all too often that support is lacking.”
Watch and share these videos with Caroline, Hameed, El, Paul and Julian: