Even though fewer Americans overall are smoking cigarettes, those with serious psychological distress (SPD) are not very likely to kick the habit, according to a new study by researchers at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health and The City University of New York.

People with symptoms of SPD are likely to feel nervous, hopeless, worthless, restless, fidgety or so depressed that nothing can cheer them up.

The findings, published in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research, show that people with mental health problems quit cigarettes at around half the rate of those without psychological distress.

“Overall, tobacco cessation programs have been very successful, but our research suggests that people with mental health problems have not benefited from these,” said senior author Renee Goodwin, PhD, from the department of epidemiology at Columbia Mailman School.

Using data from the 2008-2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health the researchers analyzed cigarette quit rates among people in the United States with and without serious psychological distress in the past month.

The researchers found that smokers with serious psychological distress in the past month have approximately half the quit rate compared to those without the condition: 24 percent versus 52 percent.

“This trend may be contributing to increasing disparities in smoking rates between those with and without mental health problems,” said Goodwin.

These vast differences in quit rates may be due to whether and to what degree persons with SPD are seen regularly by healthcare providers; but even if they are, these individuals may be less likely to be offered smoking cessation treatment compared to people without mental health problems, according to the researchers.

“There has been a long-held belief that mental health problems will be exacerbated by quitting smoking and that smoking is helpful to mental health,” said Goodwin, “but increasingly data support just the opposite.”

Previous research by Goodwin and colleagues found that mental health problems such as depression and anxiety appear to hinder successful quitting and sustained abstinence.

“It is increasingly clear that tobacco control efforts targeted for those with mental health problems are urgently needed to increase quit rates for this group of smokers and to lower the prevalence of smoking overall,” said Goodwin.

The research was supported by National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Source: Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health