Sometimes ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away. Sometimes the problem will just fester away in the background. It may not get worse, but what if the problem in question is leading to the early deaths of thousands of people each year in Scotland alone?
That makes the status quo seem pretty unacceptable. Something must indeed be done.
Today (10th October) is World Mental Health Day. ASH Scotland has marked the occasion by reiterating our call for robust action to break the link between smoking and mental health.
It is well known that smoking rates are significantly higher amongst people with mental health issues, who use smoking to try to cope with symptoms from stress and anxiety through to boredom. Smoking is the single largest factor in this group dying 10-20 years earlier than the general population.
Yet while smoking is often considered to be a useful support or comfort to people with mental health problems, our comprehensive review of the published evidence showed that not only is smoking enormously damaging to physical health, but that stopping smoking is linked with improved mental well-being too.
Yet too many people still think of the cigarette as something to turn to in time of need, rather than as an addiction or habit that places an additional burden on this already disadvantaged group.
The needs that people are seeking to address, such as stress relief or boredom, are very real. But there is an urgent need to develop and promote less harmful coping mechanisms, which will aid long-term recovery rather than sustain the underlying problems.
We have called for the next national mental health strategy to clearly state that support to stop smoking should be an integral part of mental health support services, and have welcomed the fact that the initial draft published by the Government did indicate that this link should be addressed.
To break the status quo we need to start working on what that change looks like and how we bring it to life.