The rate of smoking among people in Adelaide’s northern suburbs who suffer from a psychotic illness is much greater than the national average and is contributing to other major health problems, according to new research from the University of Adelaide.
Speaking in the lead up to Lung Health Awareness Month (November), PhD student Lisa Hahn from the University’s Discipline of Psychiatry says smoking plays a big role in the lives of people with psychosis.
“Schizophrenia patients often smoke to help alleviate the many symptoms associated with their mental illness. They use smoking for relaxation and to relieve boredom, which is a big issue because they’re quite socially isolated,” Ms Hahn says.
Ms Hahn has been studying national data of more than 1200 people from the second Australian Survey of High Impact Psychosis. She found that 330 people from the northern suburbs of Adelaide included in that survey had very high rates of smoking.
“As many as 71% of people with psychosis in the north of Adelaide are smokers, which is well above the national average of 56% for this group with mental illness. This is also much higher compared with only 16% of Australians without psychosis who smoke daily. This is very concerning for their current and future health, especially given the high rates of social disadvantage among this population,” Ms Hahn says.
In a paper published in the Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, Ms Hahn shows that high smoking rates contribute to poor nutrition among psychosis patients, and that poor nutrition was observed in people with a lower body mass index (BMI).
“Smoking suppresses appetite, and so we see a high proportion of people who don’t meet nutritional requirements for fruit and vegetable intake. On the other hand, side-effects of anti-psychotic drugs often increase cravings for foods high in sugar and fat, which explains why a large proportion of this population are also overweight and obese,” she says.
Ms Hahn says lack of motivation is a big factor for psychosis patients, and those who have been involved in healthy eating studies have often not continued with their healthy eating habits.
“However, we have found that people with psychosis can be successful in giving up their smoking with the help of smoking intervention programs in Adelaide. With ongoing support, there is hope,” she says.
“This could be really important for targeting other health risk behaviours. Once the smoking and other substance abuse is overcome, people with psychosis might be more inclined to change other habits, such as their diet,” she says.
This article first appeared on ‘Medical Xpress’ on 30 October 2014.