Mental Health Patients Smoke Three Times as Much as General Population
A survey by Public Health England and the NHS has revealed that mental health patients smoke more than three times as much as the general population. 105 care units were included in the study, which showed that 64% of mental health patients are addicted to tobacco, compared to 18% of the general population.
Smoking Currently Facilitated in Mental Health Care Units
Mary Yates, matron of London’s Maudsley Hospital, who has been working in mental health care for more than 25 years, says: “It’s been commonplace for smoking to be facilitated – for nurses to purchase cigarettes for patients, to accommodate patients’ cigarette breaks and to escort people to smoke rather than be investing energy in educating people on the harmful effects of smoking.”
Research has shown that smoking can increase depression and anxiety, and reduce the effectiveness of medication by up to 50%. It may also be one of the reasons that mental health patients have a life expectancy that is 10 to 20 years lower than the average person’s.
In light of this and the survey’s worrying figures, PHE is publishing new guidance to help medium and low security mental health units implement National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommendations that all NHS-funded hospitals should provide stop-smoking services. The aim is for mental health hospitals to eventually all be smoke-free zones.
New PHE Guidance Has Caused Debate
The proposal has prompted mixed reactions. Some mental health workers say that the change is a welcome one, and that care units should be doing their part to discourage the unhealthy habit, which can hinder recovery.
“People who are able to successfully give up smoking feel less anxious, have improvements in their moods, have increased self-confidence, and begin to feel that they are able to tackle a lot more in life,” says Ms Yates.
Garry Ellison, who quit smoking in 2003 after being admitted to a mental health care unit for depression, says: “I do now feel a lot more serenity and at ease. I think I’ve got a much better, robust sense of being able to maintain my wellbeing. Smoking made that much more precarious. It made me much more prone to be anxious, which then brought on depression.”
However, smokers’ rights group Forest argues that patients in mental health units should have the same freedom to smoke as the general public.
“Smoking is not just about health, although many smokers believe it helps reduce anxiety and stress,” says Simon Clark, director of the smokers’ group Forest. “If some mental health patients enjoy smoking, why should they be denied that pleasure? Public Health England has no right to deny people choice. Who are they to dictate whether or not a mental health patient can smoke a product that is legally available to every other adult in Britain?
“What PHE is proposing is discrimination. It will target unfairly a group of people who, being dependent on others, has little alternative other than to comply.”