A study has found that those who have serious mental illness have significantly higher smoking rates than the general population. Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found they can help such patients quit smoking habit by using low-burden and common-sense strategies.
Using questionnaires to survey patients and their doctors, nurses and caseworkers, the researchers found that 80 per cent of patients who smoke and have a serious mental illness want to quit smoking and that 60 per cent made an attempt to quit in the last year. 85 per cent of the health-care providers surveyed report that the main reason they don’t offer medication or smoking-cessation counseling to their patients is because patients don’t want it.
After surveys of patients made it clear that they had interest in stopping smoking, health-care providers in four St. Louis-area community mental health centres were trained about medications and other options to help patients quit. During a two-year period from 2014 to 2016, the researchers found that prescriptions for smoking-cessation medications quadrupled, from 4.6 per cent to 18 per cent of patients at the four community mental health centres.
Meanwhile, smoking rates among patients treated for schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder and clinical depression declined about three per cent, from 57 per cent to 54 per cent. Moreover, many more patients reported decreasing the number of cigarettes they smoked on a typical day. Mental health providers traditionally have focused primarily on patients’ psychiatric problems and have not been as concerned with smoking.
But even when psychiatrically stable, such patients die an average of 12 years earlier if they smoke, said Li-Shiun Chen, the study’s first author and an associate professor of psychiatry at the university. The researchers plan to increase the number of clinics where they employ this approach to learn whether their strategies of support and enhanced communication between patients and providers can help others with mental illness kick the habit. The current smoking rate in the U.S. is 15 per cent. Among those with serious mental illness, the rate of smoking is 57 per cent.