The Importance of Addressing Tobacco Reduction Among Individuals Living With Mental Illnesses

Although there has been a significant reduction in tobacco use within the past fifty years, smoking remains high among individuals with mental illnesses. They smoke at rates two to three times higher than the general population. Because of this and other factors like limited access to health care, the average life expectancy for those living with mental illnesses is about twenty-five years less than their peers. One of the most effective ways of reducing this disparity is by focusing on tobacco reduction.

Tobacco use has many harmful effects on health and mental health. Smoking increases how quickly some psychiatric medications are broken down in the body. This can cause an individual to require higher doses of medication and experience more severe side effects. There are a number of benefits to quitting smoking. It can reverse many of the negative effects that cigarettes cause and is associated with an improved mood state as well as a decrease in symptoms of depression and anxiety.

A majority of those who live with mental illnesses and smoke express interest in quitting. By regularly asking about tobacco use and assessing their interest and readiness to quit, mental health providers can assist people in developing a plan for quitting. This may include cessation medication, a quit line, counseling, or a health coach. Providers face a number of demands, but even short discussions with their clients on tobacco use can have a great impact on length and quality of life.

In an effort to reduce the high rate of smoking among individuals living with mental illnesses, NAMI Minnesota is providing a free, hour-long workshop to mental health providers and is available to work with mental health programs to make organizational changes. The educational component includes information on ways to effectively help people reduce or quit tobacco use, as well as relapse prevention strategies. By encouraging providers to address this issue with their clients and staff and to make organizational changes within their program, more individuals will have access to the tools that are necessary to be successful in quitting.

Elizabeth Muenchow is the Smoking Cessation Project Coordinator at the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Minnesota. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Global Health from the University of Wisconsin – Madison.

For more information on tobacco reduction for individuals living with mental illnesses contact Elizabeth Muenchow, Smoking Cessation Project Coordinator at NAMI Minnesota, at 651-645-2948 extension 124 or [email protected]g.

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