Health & Wellness

Clearing the Smoke: Smoking & Mental Health

Beyond the physical health issues it causes, smoking also affects mental health.

Did you know that smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. and accounts for 480,000 deaths each year? Out of that staggering number, half are struggling with mental illness. At Sheppard Pratt alone, over 75 percent of patients within our unit for mental health and substance use disorders, and nearly half of all other adult inpatients, are smokers. This is significantly greater than the 14 percent of people who smoke in the general population.

Quitting smoking doesn’t only benefit your physical health. When paired with therapy and treatment, quitting smoking provides mental health benefits too. After quitting, psychiatric symptoms improve along with a person’s ability to stay clean from other substances. And the chemicals found in cigarettes not only cause serious health issues, they can also decrease the effectiveness of medications that are vital to treatment.

“Many people, including mental health practitioners, believed the myth that people with mental illness could not quit smoking and did not want to quit smoking. Research now shows that people with all psychiatric diagnoses can, and do, quit,” says Sheppard Pratt Smoking Cessation Coordinator Rachel Smolowitz, PhD.

Smoking Cessation at Sheppard Pratt By the Numbers

Are you ready to quit? Here are a few steps you can take to start your own journey:

  • Figure out why you want to quit. Do you want to improve your health? Spend more time with family? Regardless of your “why,” it is important to have a reason that will keep you motivated.
  • Tell your loved ones and close friends that you are going to quit. They can help keep you on track.
  • Know your habits. Do you follow a smoking routine? It is important to understand these habits so you can break the cycle and adopt some positive management techniques.
  • Find additional support. Look into free support options to help you stay on track, like the Maryland Quit Line.

“When people stop relying on cigarettes as a coping mechanism, they can pick up healthier skills, like walking their dog, texting with a friend, or starting a new craft project,” says Dr. Smolowitz.

Remember that you are never alone in your journey to quit smoking. Sheppard Pratt has helped over 7,000 patients receiving smoking cessation treatment over the past four years.

Meet the Expert

  • Rachel Smolowitz, PhD

    Program Manager, Sheppard Pratt Integrated Behavioral Health at GBMC
    Co-Occurring Disorders, LGBTQ+ Mental Health Issues, Motivational Interviewing, Program Development, Psychotherapy, Smoking Cessation