Butting out in mental health environments

Tobacco smoking, the largest single preventable cause of death and disease in Australia, has long been an entrenched part of the culture of mental health services. SANE Australia, the national mental health charity, has developed Guidelines to help community organisations go smokefree and stay smokefree.

Research tells us people with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, mood disorders, anxiety and personality disorders make up about 40 per cent of all smokers in Australia and that they are twice as likely as the general public to be heavy smokers.

‘The physical and financial burden of smoking is huge for people with a mental illness,’ explains SANE Australia’s Executive Director, Barbara Hocking. ‘Smokers get sick more, die earlier and some go without food to pay for cigarettes.’

Mental health organisations play an essential role in the overall health and wellbeing of people living with mental illness, but becoming smokefree and providing ongoing support for smoking cessation to clients can be challenging.

The SANE Smokefree Guidelines will assist organisations to become smokefree successfully and sustainably, thereby improving the health of clients and staff.

‘Becoming a smokefree workplace involves much more than just putting up a ‘No smoking sign’,’ says Ms Hocking. ‘It requires commitment, leadership, staff training and support to bring cultural change.’

The Guidelines focus on the process - planning and preparation, implementation and sustainability – and include a sample Smokefree Policy.

According to Ms Hocking, many people with a mental illness say they want to quit, but lack support or money to do so.

‘Some find it difficult to access community quit smoking groups and counseling services because of their illness and mental health organisations can really help,’ Ms Hocking adds.

Australians living with a mental illness have much poorer physical health than that of the general population, dying younger and with higher rates of chronic illnesses such as heart disease.

‘People with mental illness are concerned about their general health, but symptoms such as lack of motivation, as well as financial pressures, social isolation and weight gain associated with some medications, can make it particularly difficult to make healthy lifestyle changes, such as quitting, without extra support’ says Ms Hocking.

The Guidelines, which can be downloaded from www.sane.org are the latest in a suite of resources developed with NGOs, to help people with mental illness quit smoking. These include the SANE Smokefree Kit, a guide to running a tailored quit program, and SANE's Guide to a Smokefree Life for people living with mental illness. These resources can be purchased from the Bookshop at www.sane.org or by calling the SANE Helpline on 1800 18 SANE (7263).

pdf SANE Media Release - Butting out in mental health environments.pdf


SANE Australia offers a wide range of resources to assist people diagnosed with mental illness and their families. Call the SANE Helpline on 1800 18 SANE (7263) or visit sane.org for more information.