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Smokers with mental health conditions who successfully quit smoking call on health professionals to do more to help others do the same

February 2020

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 UK Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), the University of Bath and the University of York are available online.

Nearly a third of smokers in the UK have a mental health condition, and a similar proportion of adults with a mental health condition smoke – this is substantially higher than the rate among 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.

Too often people with mental health conditions are discouraged from trying to quit smoking by health professionals. Yet 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. There is also good evidence showing people should try and quit smoking if they have a mental health condition, and the new year is a good time to set quitting as a personal goal to improve health.

The 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 how much quitting smoking improved their lives and wellbeing.

Some of the people in the videos took part in the groundbreaking study ‘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. However, all too often smokers with mental health conditions aren’t being given the help they need to quit.

Population studies show that quitting smoking is linked to improvements in mental health equal to taking anti-depressants. Based on these findings, Dr Taylor at the University of Bath is 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.

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