Stopping smoking is good for your mental health

Being smoke-free helps relieve stress, anxiety and depression and gives you a more positive outlook on life. These benefits apply to all smokers, not just those with pre-existing mental health problems.

We all know that stopping smoking improves your physical health. Here are 10 health benefits of stopping smoking. But did you know that stopping smoking is also proven to boost your mental health?

Although most smokers report that they want to stop, many continue because they’re convinced that smoking helps relieve stress and anxiety.

But it’s a complete myth that smoking helps you to relax. The reality is that smoking actually increases anxiety and tension. Smokers are more likely to develop depression or anxiety disorder over time than non-smokers. And cutting out cigarettes triggers a big improvement in mood.

It’s a myth that smoking improves mood

Why do smokers with and without mental health problems falsely believe smoking improves their mood?

Scientists think it’s because they confuse the ability of cigarettes to abolish nicotine withdrawal as a beneficial effect on their mental health.

Smokers tend to feel irritable, anxious and down when they haven’t smoked for a while and these unpleasant feelings are temporarily reversed when they light up a cigarette. That creates the impression that it’s the smoking that has improved their mood, when in fact it’s smoking that caused the psychological disturbances in the first place.

The mental health benefits of quitting smoking

Studies show that people's anxiety, depression and stress levels are lower after they stop smoking when compared with those who carry on smoking and that their quality of life and mood improves. Also, the improved levels of oxygen in the body means that ex-smokers can concentrate better.

Smokers with mental health problems

The psychological benefits of stopping smoking are just as striking in people who already have a mental health disorder as those without. Stopping smoking helps their mental health symptoms and can lead to reduced doses of anti-psychotic medicine.

This is welcome news because people with diagnosed mental health problems, including anxiety, depression or schizophrenia, are two to three times more likely to take up smoking and also tend to smoke more heavily than the general population.

It’s estimated that 30% of all smokers have a mental health problem and that two of every five cigarettes smoked in England are smoked by people with a mental health problem. Smokers living with a mental health problem also have a life expectancy eight years less than the general population, very likely as a result of the physical ravages of smoking, such as lung cancer.

Stopping smoking helps more than antidepressants

One theory as to why people with mental health problems are far more likely to smoke than the general population is that they perceive nicotine gives them immediate relief from the unpleasant symptoms of anxiety, depression or schizophrenia.

But the opposite is true. People with psychiatric problems are likely to feel much calmer and positive and have a better quality of life after giving up smoking. In fact, the beneficial effect of stopping smoking in people with psychiatric problems is greater than that of antidepressant therapy for mood and anxiety disorders.

Many people living with mental health problems have successfully quit smoking and report a wide range of benefits as a result. 

8 tips to stop smoking

If you want to stop smoking, contact your local NHS stop smoking services, these provide the best chance of stopping completely and forever.

Here are eight ways to boost your chances of stopping smoking. This advice applies to people with or without a mental health problem:

  1. See an NHS stop smoking adviser. It's free and will massively increase your chances of quitting. 
  2. Use either a nicotine patch, plus one of the faster acting nicotine replacement products (such as the nicotine nasal spray) or the prescription medicine, Champix, and make sure you use them for at least six to eight weeks. Stop smoking treatments may be especially helpful for people with mental health problems if they’re combined with talking treatments. Read more about stop smoking treatments.
  3. If you take antipsychotic medicines and want to stop smoking it's very important that you talk to your GP and/or psychiatrist before you stop as the dosage of your prescription drugs may need to be monitored and the amount you have to take could be reduced.
  4. It helps to avoid drinking alcohol or using psychoactive drugs when you stop smoking to boost your chances of success.
  5. According to the Mental Health Foundation, people with depression and other mental health conditions can find it particularly difficult to give up smoking and experience stronger withdrawal symptoms and craving. Here's some advice on how to cope with cravings.
  6. Because smoking is often used as a way of coping by people with mental health problems, it’s important to find other ways of dealing with stress. Use these 10 stressbusters.
  7. Don’t worry too much about putting on weight when you stop smoking. If you eat healthily and keep active you should be able to keep weight gain to a minimum. Read how to stop smoking without putting on weight.
  8. The Royal College of Psychiatrists has advice for people with mental illness on quitting smoking.

Now, read more articles about stopping smoking.

Page last reviewed: 13/03/2015

Next review due: 13/03/2017

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