Smoking and Mental Illness

People with behavioral health conditions are more likely to smoke. Psychologists are among those working to understand why and helping them quit.

Chad Morris, PhD, didn’t begin his career with tobacco in mind. His wake-up call came while reviewing best practices for treating bipolar disorder.

“I had this aha moment when I realized: What’s the one thing you have to be to benefit from the best services?” says the associate professor in the psychiatry department at the University of Colorado Denver. “The bottom line is, you have to be alive.”

But for people with mental illnesses, just staying alive can be challenging: People with serious mental illness treated in the public health system die a startling 25 years earlier than those without mental illness, according to a 2006 article in Preventing Chronic Disease. The problem hasn’t improved in the years since, Morris notes, and all too often, smoking is part of that mortal equation.

Tobacco-related illnesses including cancer, heart disease and lung disease are among the most common causes of death in this population. And Americans with mental illnesses have a 70 percent greater likelihood of smoking than the general population, according to new findings from researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Feb. 8). People with mental illnesses also smoke more often than smokers without mental illness, says Tim McAfee, MD, director of the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health and a co-author of the report. “We can’t just ignore this population.”

Read the rest of the article by Kirsten Weir at the APA website.

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