Smokers Could Be at Greater Risk of Mental Illness, What Does This Mean for the Elderly?

A new revelation suggests that smoking may lead to long-lasting mental illnesses like schizophrenia and depression. While many smokers are switching to electronic devices to wean themselves off, we wonder whether e-cigarettes are a feasible solution?

The detrimental effects smoking has on our physical well-being is a well-established narrative. That said, mental health also plays a crucial role in our well-being – a key detail that many neglect. The University of Bristol published a new study in the Psychological Medicine urging that smoking tobacco may increase the risk of developing chronic disorders such as schizophrenia and depression.

The cause and effect relationship between smoking and mental illnesses is two-dimensional. The research, with a sample size of 462,690 participants across Europe, shows that individuals who are already suffering from depression are also more prone to initiate smoking (the evidence is much stronger for depression than for schizophrenia).

“Individuals with mental illness are often overlooked in our efforts to reduce smoking prevalence, leading to health inequalities,” lead author Dr Robyn Wootton points out. “Our work shows that we should be making every effort to prevent smoking initiation and encourage smoking cessation because of the consequences to mental health as well as physical health.”

“Combustible cigarette smoking has been linked with an increased risk of developing major depressive disorder and has also been shown to be highly predictive of future suicidal behavior among individuals with a history of depression,” lead researcher of the study, Dr. Olufunmilayo Obisesan, told Medical News Today.

Photo by Joseph Chan

What does this mean in a greying city like Hong Kong, where elderly smokers (aged 60 or above) make up as much as 23.9% of the city’s daily smoking population ? While the government has made tremendous progress in raising awareness about tobacco’s effects on one’s physical health, little attention has been given to the plausible link between smoking and mental wellbeing. The public remains largely unaware about the psychological effects of smoking.

As it turns out, these serious health risks are not limited to traditional cigarettes. Recent years have seen an alarming rise of electronic cigarettes use in Hong Kong. As per a survey taken in 2017 across 10,000 households in Hong Kong, 5,700 smokers used e-cigarettes or other devices on a daily basis. These alternatives have always been touted as a tool for helping smokers quit, but researchers warn, while they are less dangerous than cigarettes — they are certainly not risk-free. A recent study shows a significant association between e-cigarettes and depression, reporting that e-cigarette smokers are twice as likely to report clinical depression as those who have never vaped. 

The key takeaway is that smoking, regardless of the type of cigarette or device you smoke out of, could result in a deterioration of one’s mental well-being. This risk should be widely communicated to elderly smokers who are more susceptible to mental illness. If you are looking to help elderly smokers around you kick this deadly habit, here are some useful tips to get started.

Feature photo by Zakar