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Recent Study Shows High Smoking Rates Among Patients Receiving Mental Health Services

Smoking Sign

Experts have always thought there was a correlation between smoking and being diagnosed with mental illness. However, this problem had remained a simple theory until the Missouri Department of Mental Health conducted a recent study to shed light on the problem. KSMU’s Theresa Bettmann has this report.

Experts say that as much as 25% of the population of Missouri uses tobacco, which is one of the highest rates of consumption in the country. Mental health experts had previously feared that tobacco usage was even higher among those struggling with psychological conditions or substance abuse. A recent report indicates that as much as 64% of this population uses tobacco. However, smoking policies and cessation programs are currently geared to the general population, and do not effectively reach those with mental illness. Dottie Mullikin is spokesperson for the Missouri Department of Mental Health. She explains why this recent study is important.

"Well one of the things that made it [the report] special, is that there was very little evidence that has been focused on mental health consumers. And we'd always had a sense that the [tobacco] use was greater. But this is one of the first times we've had documentation of that." Mullikin said.

Funding for this study came from a grant through the Missouri Foundation for Health. As a result of the findings, a comprehensive plan is being developed to begin changing policies and creating necessary programs geared toward helping smokers who have been diagnosed with mental illness. Mullikin says that the department has already begun asking mental health service providers to convert to smoke-free campuses. She says this can be a controversial process, as these policies also include the facility’s parking lots. Mullikin says that this is just one part of the process, but that there are many additional steps that need to happen.

Mullikan said, "You need to go more slowly, and go more comprehensively. You need to do education programsfor staff, and really do a more in-depth program."

Mullikin says that research has shown people with mental illnesses who smoke die an average of 25 years earlier than the general population. She explains that it is not the mental illness that is causing this death rate, but the lack of awareness of how big the problem is, as well as not enough specialized anti-smoking programs. Mullikin says that even with all of the recent budget cutbacks in every area across the state, their goal continues to be helping those who rely on the mental health community for support. For KSMU News, I’m Theresa Bettmann.