New study results show that quitting smoking can reduce levels of anxiety and depression.
Smoking rates have been falling across the globe over the last fifty years, with the rate of smokers in the UK at 14.1% in 2019.
However, the rate of people with mental health issues who smoke is contrastingly high, with a study reporting that approximately one third of all UK smokers have evidence of mental health issues.
Many smokers, and even some health providers, believe that it acts as a stress-reliever, benefitting their mental health and helping them cope with anxiety, and that their mental health symptoms will worsen if they stop.
There are also worries regarding the breakdown of social relationships caused by irritability that occurs in the early stages of breaking the habit, or due to smoking being viewed as an important part of their social life.
But a new Cochrane analysis, which gathered findings from over 100 studies of the impact of smoking or quitting smoking on mental health, has shown quite the opposite effects.
Overall, the analysis reported a greater reduction in anxiety and depression in those who stopped smoking, along with an increase of social wellbeing.
Three studies within the review showed a 24% reduction in the likelihood of developing mixed anxiety and depression in the future, while two studies showed a 44% reduced chance of developing anxiety alone.
Dr Gemma Taylor, of the University of Bath’s Addiction and Mental Health Group, states: “From our evidence, we see that the link between smoking cessation and mood seem to be similar in a range of people. And most crucially, there is no evidence that people with mental health conditions will experience a worsening of their health if they stop smoking.”
This new research comes as Public Health England (PHE) publishes data suggesting smokers have poorer mental wellbeing than non-smokers, with their levels of anxiety and unhappiness increasing between 2019-2020.
PHE results show a 50% increase in anxiety levels amongst smokers, jumping from 1.6 million to 2.4 million. The percentage of smokers reporting unhappiness rose from 900,000 to 1.3 million.
Chief Executive of Action on Smoking and Health, Deborah Arnott, recently made a statement saying: “After the year we’ve all had, some smokers might feel now is not the time to stop. The opposite is true, put smoking behind you and a brighter future beckons.
"Be confident that once you have put smoking behind you, not only will you be healthier but feel happier too.”
The NHS has also published statements alongside their Smokefree campaign that stopping smoking not only improves your physical health, but is also proven to boost your mental health and wellbeing.
Quitting can lift your mood, and help relieve stress, anxiety and depression. If you are looking for resources to help you quit smoking, the NHS offer a free NHS Smokefree app and there are free resources on the smokefree.gov website.
Written by Alice Lynes
News reporter for Talking Mental Health
Twitter & Instagram: @alicelynes