The link between smoking and poor mental health
Long term, smoking worsens mental health. Learn why quitting smoking leads to fewer mental health symptoms and an overall healthier lifestyle, and how you can find support along the way.
Nicotine is often used as an indulgence. While it may bring temporary feelings of comfort when we’re stressed, using nicotine or tobacco products can literally worsen our mental health in the long run1. Research studies show smoking is actually associated with more mental health problems3.
Read on to learn more about why, in the long run, quitting smoking will lead to fewer mental health symptoms and an overall healthier lifestyle, and how you can find help and support along the way.
Living with mental illness and smoking
“It would be much easier to get people to make the changes required to quit if, instead of putting black lungs on cigarette packages, write messages like: ‘If you’re stressed, depressed or anxious, see your local mental health provider.’” – an ex-smoker
More than 27% of U.S. adults with a mental illness report smoking cigarettes during the past month, compared to 15.8% of adults without mental illness4. In fact, every 3 out of 10 cigarettes are smoked by persons with mental health disorders5.
Smoking is believed to be more prevalent among people with a mental illness because nicotine may temporarily lessen symptoms of anxiety, depression and schizophrenia. However, the effects are not lasting, and studies show that smoking can actually increase levels of depression, anxiety and stress, as well as psychiatric symptoms2.
Smoking cessation, or quitting smoking, has been linked to a reduction in depression, anxiety and stress. Quitting smoking can improve your mood and quality of life, and has even been shown to help people reduce the dosage of their medications needed to treat mental health problems3.
Help and support for mental health and quitting smoking
Studies show that quitting smoking can improve your mental health. If you’re living with a mental health condition such as depression or anxiety, you may need extra support to quit smoking. With the right support, you can quit smoking without worsening your mental health5.
Many people who smoke and struggle with mental health issues benefit from psychotherapy—also called talk therapy or counseling. A therapist helps you learn skills to cope with life’s stressors in a healthier way, change behaviors that are causing problems, and find solutions. It may take a few tries to find a therapist you feel comfortable with. Having a trusted person to talk to openly and honestly about your feelings and concerns is an important part of getting better. Some common goals of talk therapy include getting healthier, quitting smoking, stopping drug and alcohol use, identifying things that worsen your mental health, and creating a plan to deal with these things in a healthier way5.
Another source of trusted support is Way to Quit, a free service in which participants build the plan that works best for them that includes free nicotine patches and gum, educational materials based on your specific needs, and supportive text messaging service. Certified quit coaches offer free 24/7 assistance by phone or online. These are completely confidential sessions that can both double your chances of quitting tobacco and provide judgment-free support.
Many people with depression find that taking prescribed medications like antidepressants can help improve their mood and coping skills. Talk to your doctor about whether they are right for you. If you are already using nicotine patches, gum or another medication to help you quit smoking, be sure to let your doctor know so they can provide you with the safest and most effective medication. Sometimes it takes several tries to find the best medication and the right dose for you, so be patient with yourself and have open communication with a health care provider5.
It’s important to know that stopping smoking isn’t going to automatically cure mental health struggles. And withdrawals after quitting are very common, especially in the first two weeks after you’ve stopped using a tobacco or nicotine product. But remember, there are effective and safe treatments to help you quit smoking and improve your mental health and, in the long run, it’s worth the struggle!
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