People With Mental Illness More Likely to Smoke

Anyone who has not lived as a hermit in a cave for the last few decades knows that smoking is bad for your health. In spite of this knowledge, many people still choose to engage in the habit of inhaling nicotine through cigarette smoke. Often, those who start want to stop, but the addiction to nicotine is a powerful one and quitting is incredibly difficult. For the mentally ill, giving up the smokes is even harder. And yet, many treatment facilities allow, and sometimes encourage, patients to smoke.

The Statistics

As if giving up cigarettes was not hard enough for anyone, if you suffer from a mental illness, you are 50 percent less likely to be successful at quitting. And, you are more likely, by 70 percent, to be a smoker in the first place, than those who do not have a mental illness. This includes people with schizophrenia and those with mild anxiety disorder, although those with more severe diseases are even more likely to smoke.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one-third of American smokers have a mental illness of some type. Among all adults in the United States, 36 percent of those with a mental illness smoke, whereas only 21 percent of those who do not suffer from any mental illness are regular smokers. It is clear that there is some connection between mental illness and cigarette smoking.

Smoking in Treatment Facilities

In psychiatric hospitals and other similar facilities for caring for the mentally ill, smoking is common. Research has found that nicotine has some antipsychotic and antidepressant effects. This helps to explain, at least partially, why the mentally ill are drawn to cigarettes. It could be a form of self-medication. Those who run treatment facilities argue that the ability to smoke is one of the few pleasures their patients have. They are, therefore, reluctant to take it away. They also fear the repercussions in terms of the success of treatments and the complicity of the patients to participate in them.

The negative consequences, however, of all this smoking in institutions are becoming clear. Patients in mental health facilities die 25 years younger, on average, than people in the general population. Many of these deaths are related to smoking and the resultant health problems. The trend is forcing the administrators of mental health facilities to reevaluate policies on smoking.

Efforts to Curb Smoking in Facilities

As hospitals and institutions begin to realize the risks of letting patients smoke, many are trying to implement cigarette bans, with mixed results. Using substitutes, such as patches or nicotine gum, can help to some extent. They do allow patients to take in nicotine, but in a safer manner. The use of e-cigarettes may also be promising. These also deliver nicotine to the body in a similar way to smoking, but without also introducing the smoke, tar, and everything else that comes with a typical cigarette.

Some hospitals have also considered using smoking cessation medications such as Chantix or Xyban, but these pose certain problems. Xyban cannot be combined with other medications, like antidepressants and Chantix, and, although proven to be very effective, can actually worsen symptoms of mental illnesses. Treatment facilities have limited options, in other words, when it comes to helping patients quit smoking.

The issue of smoking in treatment centers is a complex one. More research is needed to help develop techniques for assisting mentally ill patients with quitting. To stop smoking is more difficult for the mentally ill and the techniques used for others may not work for them. Additionally, there is the issue of basic rights. Cigarettes are legal and banning only certain people from using them is a shaky argument. If other people, those without mental illnesses, are free to smoke, then everyone should be. Otherwise there is an issue of discrimination.

Administrators of mental health facilities, caregivers, and therapists have many differing opinions on the issue of smoking while in a treatment center. The question of allowing, banning, or just curbing smoking in mental health patients is a tricky one with many complexities. An answer is not likely to found any time soon.

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