Smoking rates high among the mentally ill

People who suffer with a mental illness in the United States smoke cigarettes at a 70% higher rate than those who do not have any such illness. This is one of the many findings contained in a report released this week as a joint venture by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The new data also indicates that roughly one in every three adults across America with a mental illness smokes, compared to just one in five adults without mental illness. It is estimated that there are almost 46 million adults suffering with mental illness in the United States (about a fifth of the total population).

The report, which was constructed using information obtained from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, suggests that adults with mental illness light-up around a third of all cigarettes in the United States – smoking a higher quantity of cigarettes every month, (averaging 331 cigarettes per month, compared with 310 for other smokers) as well as more likely to have difficulty quitting the habit compared to those without mental illness.

“Many people with mental illness are at greater risk of dying early from smoking than of dying from their mental health conditions,” said Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control.  He added: “We need to do more to help smokers with mental illness quit.”

For the CDC study, researchers looked at data from the 2009-2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which comprised of 138,000 adults being interviewed at their homes.

They were given 14 questions designed to determine possible psychological distress and disability. Participants were categorised as having mental illness if their answers reported a mental, behaviour or emotional disorder in the previous year. Anybody who stated they had a substance abuse problem or those with developmental disorders were not deemed to have mental illness.  Patients in mental hospitals or members of the U.S. military were excluded from the study.

For the purpose of the study, a ‘current smoker’ was defined as a person who had smoked at least some of a cigarette during the previous 30 days.

According to Dr. Frieden, in those with a mental illness, it was noted that smoking rates were increased in younger, poor and less-educated adults. Interestingly, regional discrepancies were seen for smoking habits among the mentally ill. For example, the rate was merely 18.2% in Utah, however it rose to 48.7% in West Virginia.

Some reasons highlighted in the study for reasons why the smoking rates are so high for those mentally ill include marketing from the tobacco industry and the historical utilisation of cigarettes as an incentive to help behaviour in psychiatric hospitals. Dr. Frieden says: “There are some effects of nicotine which can mask some of the negative effects of mental illness.”

Another reason was the fact that smoking may be hampering the effectiveness of certain medications, in turn leading to smokers with a mental illness then smoking more to deal with their symptoms. In addition, the study authors say that many people with mental illness find it challenging to sustain a life that is healthy both financially and socially, and more unable to cope with withdrawal symptoms from stopping smoking.

Smoking is still the leading cause of preventable death is numerous countries around the world and Dr. Frieden concluded that the subject of this report is “a very serious health issue that needs more attention.”

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