North East health campaigners call for action to reduce “appallingly high” deaths from smoking among people with mental health conditions
FRESH is supporting calls nationally to narrow health inequalities and reduce appallingly high death rates caused by smoking among people with a mental health condition.
People with poor mental health die on average 10 to 20 years earlier and tobacco addiction is the biggest cause of this life expectancy gap. Smoking is also associated with an increased risk of major depression and other mental health conditions, and there is strong evidence that smoking could be a cause of mental illnesses like depression and schizophrenia.
The Mental Health and Smoking Partnership has written to Steve Barclay, secretary of state for Health and Social Care, calling on the Government to publish a new tobacco control plan to reduce smoking rates which also focuses on tobacco addiction among people with mental health conditions. The Partnership is a collaboration of health and medical organisations including Fresh, Action on Smoking and Health and the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
The letter states: “Smoking is undermining the Government’s goal to improve the physical health of people with mental health conditions and the much higher rates of smoking in people with mental health conditions threatens to prevent the Government delivering on its manifesto commitment of increasing healthy life expectancy by five years by 2035.
“Without further action people with mental health conditions will be left behind.”
Ailsa Rutter OBE, Director of Fresh and Balance, said: “People with a mental health condition are more likely to smoke and more likely to die from smoking between 10 and 20 years younger. These are years stolen from them by smoking. But when given the right support they are able to quit just as successfully as anyone.
“Too often people with mental health conditions are discouraged from trying to quit smoking by health professionals. The Partnership is calling for more support for people with long term mental health conditions to quit and more awareness of the benefits stopping can have on their mental wellbeing.
“It is estimated that 1 in 3 smokers now have a mental health condition. We need a new national Tobacco Control Plan to tackle our biggest killer but it is increasingly clear that when we talk about mental health we also need to be talking about smoking.”
Evidence shows quitting smoking can improve mental wellbeing within just six weeks, by reducing anxiety, depression, and stress. People who quit experienced more positive feelings and better psychological wellbeing. Improvements have been found to be at least as great as from taking anti-depressants (4).
In addition some doses of psychiatric medication need to be higher among people who smoke because smoking interferes with the way those medicines work (5).
The NHS Long Term Plan commits to offering NHS-funded tobacco treatment services to all inpatients (including mental health) and pregnant women, as well as high-risk outpatient groups.
In the North East and North Cumbria the Smokefree NHS Taskforce is working with all our Acute & Mental Health Trusts to increase awareness amongst health professionals of the importance of treating tobacco dependency as part of routine patient care to ensure all hospital in-patients as well as pregnant women who smoke are offered support to stay off tobacco. The work is part of the NHS Long Term Plan to reduce the harms caused by smoking and to treat tobacco dependency.