School of Medicine

Smoking rates decline when mentally ill get help to quit

Such patients have higher than average smoking rates

From the WashU School of Medicine Newsroom

Recognition of a disconnect between what patients with serious mental illness want and what health providers think they want appears to be a crucial step in reducing smoking rates among such patients.

Those who have serious mental illness have significantly higher smoking rates than the general population. But researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have found they can help such patients kick the habit using low-burden, common-sense strategies that begin with simply recognizing that many such patients want to quit smoking.

The study is published June 1 in the American Psychiatric Association’s journal Psychiatric Services.

Using questionnaires to survey patients and their doctors, nurses and caseworkers, the researchers discovered a disconnect between what patients want and what their health providers think they want.

“We’ve found that 80 percent of patients who smoke and have a serious mental illness want to quit smoking and that 60 percent made an attempt to quit in the last year,” said Li-Shiun Chen, MD, the study’s first author and an associate professor of psychiatry. “Yet 85 percent 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.”

The current smoking rate in the United States is 15 percent, and in Missouri, about 23 percent. But among those with serious mental illness, the rate of smoking is 57 percent. Chen’s team found that many of these patients want to quit but don’t get treatment.

After surveys of patients made it clear that they had interest in stopping smoking, and health-care providers in four St. Louis-area community mental health centers were trained about medications and other options to help patients quit, previous assumptions were turned upside down.

  Read more at the News Hub.