Tuesday, 8 September 2009

How Many Cigarettes Are You Smoking!!??

I don't know if it has ever happened to you to spend some time in a psychiatric hospital or otherwise to spend some time with someone sufferring of some psychiatric disease, like schizophrenia. Well, if the answer is yes, you would surely have noticed that psychiatric patients smoke a lot. If the answer is no, then trust me please. Anyway, when I say that they smoke a lot I truly mean it. That's one of the things that I couldn't avoid to notice when I worked there. A large percentage of them was literally smoking for the whole day and frequently having one cigarette right after the other. Moreover, you could also deduct it from the brown colour of their fingers. Obviously, also "normal" people (please, allow me to use this term even if inappropriate) can smoke a hell of a lot, but the percentage is much lower. Just to make myself clear: according to some research smoking rates are as high as 80% among schizophrenic patients, whereas in the general population the percentage is around 25%.

Now of course the question: Why do they smoke so much? I did some research on my own and "discovered" some of the main reasons. Some are more intuitive, others are not. Let me tell you a couple of the things I found out (from the more to the less obvious one)

1) Smoking relieves anxiety: I don't think this first one needs further explainations;

2) Smoking is more common in deprived groups: It looks like "less lucky" people tend to smoke more cigs. And it also looks like "less lucky" people are more prone to develop some kind of mentall illness. Smoking would be a way to cope with the anxiety caused by their condition;

3) Smoking as a pastime and as a social facilitator: Patients in psychiatric hospitals have to deal with boredom. Long days, nothing to do. Smoking can, in some way, help to beat time. Moreover smoking is also a social activity. Patients gather together and use cigarette smoking as a ritual;

4) Smoking as an "antidote" (the most interesting one!): Some research seems to prove that cigarette smoking in psychiatric patients can have some positive effects like reducing some of the symptoms of psychotic illness, reduce some of the antipsychotics side effects, improve cognition, etc...

Here are therefore some of the reasons why most psychiatric patients smoke so much. Now, other questions come naturally: should doctors help them to quit or should they consider it only as a "minor thing" considering all the problems they have? Would it be possible to help them to quit? Maybe smoking is one of the few pleasures left to them?

I really would like to answer all these questions, but, please forgive me, I really have to go and smoke a cigarette...