July 05, 2016

This blog was adapted with permission from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It originally appeared in the CDC’s February 2013 issue of Vital Signs, “Adult Smoking: Focusing on People with Mental Illness.” NAMI is a proud partner in the CDC’s national tobacco education campaign called Tips From Former Smokers (Tips) *


Rebecca, age 57, started smoking cigarettes at age 16. All of her family members smoked, and once she started smoking, she was hooked. Rebecca kept smoking into adulthood and tried to stop but soon discovered she had trouble quitting. At age 33, Rebecca was diagnosed with depression. She smoked frequently when she felt depressed because she thought smoking might help her cope with her feelings.

Rebecca felt ashamed when she smoked, so when she tried to quit and couldn’t, she felt even more depressed. “That was just a vicious, vicious cycle,” she said. To break the cycle, Rebecca knew she had to get care for her depression and quit smoking for good. Rebecca finally quit smoking, and she feels better—both mentally and physically. “It’s about taking control and knowing where you want to be in your life.”

Cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of disease, disability and death in the United States. Despite overall declines in smoking, more people with mental illness smoke than people without mental illness. Because many people with mental illness smoke, many will get sick and die early from smoking. Smoking-related diseases such as cardiovascular disease, lung disease and cancer are among the most common causes of death among adults with mental health conditions. 

Smoking is much more common among adults with mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety, than in the general population. About three out of every 10 cigarettes smoked by adults in the United States are smoked by persons with mental health conditions. Smoking is not a treatment for depression or anxiety. Getting help for your depression and anxiety and quitting smoking are the best ways to feel better.

Smoking and Mental Illness
Like other smokers, smokers with mental illness are interested in quitting, are able to quit and have a better chance of quitting successfully when they have access to proven stop-smoking treatments. However, people with mental illness face may challenges in quitting smoking:

  • Nicotine has mood-altering effects that put people with mental illness at higher risk for cigarette use and nicotine addiction.
  • People with mental illness are more likely to have stressful living conditions, be low income, and lack access to health insurance, health care and help quitting.
  • Evidence shows that there has been direct tobacco marketing to people with mental illness.

People with mental illness may need extra help to succeed in quitting. This can include more counseling and longer use or a combination of stop-smoking medicines. With careful monitoring, quitting smoking does not interfere with treatments for mental illness and can be part of the treatment.

Immediate Health Benefits of Quitting

  • The risk for a heart attack drops sharply just one year after quitting.
  • After two to five years, the chance of stroke can fall to about the same as a nonsmoker’s.
  • Within five years of quitting, the chance of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus and bladder is cut in half.
  • Ten years after quitting, the risk for dying from lung cancer drops by half.

What Smokers Can Do

  • Decide to quit using tobacco right away. The sooner they stop, the sooner their bodies can begin to heal, and the less likely they are to get sick from tobacco use.
  • Ask their doctors and mental health treatment providers for help to quit.
  • Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW for free help quitting and go to www.smokefree.gov for a step-by-step quit guide.
  • Avoid secondhand smoke and make homes and vehicles smoke-free.
  • Support friends who are trying to quit.


Submit To The NAMI Blog

We’re always accepting submissions to the NAMI Blog! We feature the latest research, stories of recovery, ways to end stigma and strategies for living well with mental illness. Most importantly: We feature your voices.


NAMI HelpLine is available M-F, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. ET. Call 800-950-6264,
text “helpline” to 62640, or chat online. In a crisis, call or text 988 (24/7).