The benefits of not smoking are well-known and heavily publicized in the U.S. In addition to all of the physical health improvements, though, a new study has now shown that quitting smoking may actually lead to improved mental health.
The study, published in the journal Psychological Medicine, has linked quitting smoking or even just cutting back on cigarettes with improved mental health in patients with psychiatric issues. Subjects who quit or reduced their habit were found to have a lower risk for mood disorders or problems related to drugs and alcohol.
"Clinicians tend to treat the depression, alcohol dependence or drug problem first and allow patients to 'self-medicate' with cigarettes if necessary," said Patricia Cavazos-Rehg, lead author of the study and a psychiatry professor at the Washington University School of Medicine. "The assumption is that psychiatric problems are more challenging to treat and that quitting smoking may interfere with treatment."
Though the correlation between quitting smoking an mental health improvements were clear, the study was not able to determine whether quitting improved the mental health of patients or whether improved mental health was more likely to lead to smoking cessation. Either way, the study's authors believe that doctors should be more proactive in encouraging their patients to quit smoking, regardless of other psychiatric issues.
"We really need to spread the word and encourage doctors and patients to tackle these problems," said Cavazos-Rehg. "When a patient is ready to focus on other mental health issues, it may be an ideal time to address smoking cessation, too."