A new study has shown that quitting smoking can improve mental health outcomes for people with and without mental health disorders.
Researchers at the University of Oxford found that smoking abstinence, particularly between weeks nine and 24, was associated with significant improvements in anxiety and depression scores.
The findings published in JAMA Network Open have important implications for smoking reduction policies and practices. The researchers hope to see more support to help people suffering from mental illness quit smoking.
Smoking levels have been falling in the UK since 2011 for the population as a whole. However, this trajectory has not been followed for people with mental health issues and the number of people smoking who also have a mental health condition has remained at approximately 40 per cent since 1993. Many smokers believe that smoking can have a calming effect, and some healthcare professionals may dissuade individuals with mental health issues from quitting because of concerns about worsening their mental health.
To analyse the impact of quitting smoking on mental health outcomes, the researchers used data from the Evaluating Adverse Events in a Global Smoking Cessation Study (EAGLES). The large, randomised clinical trial occurred between 2011 and 2015 and included data from sixteen countries. For this study, only data from US-based participants was used and included 4,260 adults with or without a psychiatric disorder who smoked. Just over half of the participants had a history of mental illness.
The study provided robust evidence that quitting smoking will not worsen and may improve mental health outcomes. After adjustment for demographics and other variables, smoking cessation sustained for at least 15 weeks was associated with a decrease in scores for both anxiety and depression compared with continuing smoking. Improved mental health outcomes were seen for both people with and without psychiatric disorders.
Professor Paul Aveyard, co-author of the study from the University of Oxford, said that many people who smoke cannot contemplate stopping smoking even though they know it affects their health.
He said: ‘They feel they need cigarettes to cope with stress – they feel better afterwards. However, what people perceive are the benefits of smoking, are the symptoms of withdrawal from cigarettes. While smoking gives a short-term benefit, smoking itself is the cause of the problems. Our study joins with others that show that when people stop smoking their mental health improves, whereas those who do not stop smoking have no improvement.’
The researchers said that pharmacological and behavioural support is needed to help people stop smoking, particularly those suffering from mental health issues.
Angela Wu, lead author and doctoral student at the University of Oxford, added: ‘While we are seeing a large decrease of smoking rates over the years in the UK for the general population, this is not the case for people living with mental health conditions. We hope our results can help motivate policymakers and stakeholders to better support smoking cessation in people with mental health conditions.’