Katie's Diary

Mental health up in smoke by Dorothy Jarvis-Lee

16th July 2015

HOW often have you or someone you know lit a cigarette and excused yourself as doing it to relax or calm down after a tough day.

Well if you have, you are not alone. But before you head for another one STOP - your habit is having detrimental effect on your mental health!

Smoking has been demonised as unhealthy, but until recently the emphasis was always on heart and lungs conditions.  Now it seems what many of us suspected is true; that 20-a-day habit could be messing with your mind.

Researchers at Kings College, London, believe that smoking can cause schizophrenia and, worse, psychotic outbreaks in younger people.  That’s really worrying when you think that young people, particularly teenage girls and young women, cling to their habit.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, people including a friend of mine, who is diagnosed as psychotic, admit to ‘self–medicating’ by turning to cigarettes as a crutch when they are feeling stressed or having an episode.  It’s understandable. We all turn to something familiar in tough times, but it makes things worse.

No matter how often I tried to reason with her that smoking is going to make things worse, it made her feel more relaxed in the short term. Thankfully she quit but the chances of others quitting when they feel relaxed, even if it’s just a temporary feeling,  are remote.

A quick poll of people close to me revealed that there may be more to this than the usual statistics, statistics and damned lies.

More than 42 per cent of all cigarettes smoked in the UK are done so by people with mental health issues, a further 57 per cent are twice as likely to develop schizophrenia as non-smokers.

None of this means that smokers are guaranteed to develop schizophrenia, but it does suggest that quitting can help your mental health.

The trend sees fewer people smoking these days, but my friend admitted that she increasingly turned to cigarettes when things got difficult.  Having suffered from psychotic outbreaks she was horrified at the research. When she started to have outbreaks of psychosis that could not be explained as hereditary, her doctor prescribed medication. But she admitted she found cigarettes preferable; she can have them to hand and she doesn’t feel ostracised smoking in public compared to carrying pills about with her.  Interestingly enough though she confirmed that since she had stopped smoking her outbreaks of psychosis had been reduced dramatically … confirming that this piece of research was indeed correct!

Thankfully she has been successful like many others and managed to stop smoking, but what can others do to wean themselves off a habit that affects both her mind and BODY?

Recently ubu organised a Tour de Yorkshire cycling event for the people we serve.  We wanted them to get fit, or stay fit. The added bonus was that it also helped their mental wellbeing and a lot of them spoke afterwards of how good they had felt and the less they wanted any medication.

Being with friends is a great way to unwind.  Proper friends have no problem with you stress-dumping, but usually just being in the company of others takes your mind off your own worries.  And most people don’t smoke these days and who wants to be the odd one out!

Relaxation such as yoga or breathing deeply can also be a great way to calm you down.

There are always options and plenty of people to talk to. Take the lead from my friend … kick the habit … STOP yourself feeling so blue on a sunny day!

You can follow our other insights on @ubusupport

Mental health up in smoke by Dorothy Jarvis-Lee

 I decide what matters to me. ubu help and teach me to make my future happen 

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