WHO new FACTSHEET - The vicious cycle of tobacco use and mental illness – a double burden on health

A new factsheet launched by WHO examines the intricate connections between tobacco use and mental illness. The factsheet stresses the urgent need to address these connections: 2 in 3 people with severe mental health conditions are current smokers, which has an enormous impact on health. Reducing smoking among people with mental illness is identified as the single most effective action for reducing the gap in life expectancy.

A double burden on health

The factsheet identifies a feedback loop between mental ill health and tobacco use. Mental illness makes people twice as likely to use tobacco and, at the same time, tobacco makes people more vulnerable to mental health concerns.

The relationship between tobacco usage and mental health is complex and eye-opening. Some figures released in the factsheet are shocking – people with severe mental health conditions die on average 15–20 years prematurely, with tobacco cited as one of the main causes of death.

The impact of tobacco use is not limited to mortality rates, but also affects quality of life and attempts to cope with poor mental health. For example, tobacco reduces the effectiveness of certain medications for mental health. Conversely, quitting tobacco can allow people on certain antipsychotic medications to reduce the dosage by up to 25%.

Taking a myth-busting approach, the factsheet is packed with striking statistics drawn from up-to-date research. It foregrounds how essential it is for public health systems to support people with mental illness to quit tobacco. In addition to benefitting physical health, cessation can lead to numerous improvements in mental health, such as reduced levels of depression, anxiety and stress; enhanced mood; and even improved symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).