Penetrating The Misinformation Smokescreen

An article in the Chicago Sun-Times, New effort to help people with mental illness quit smoking, concerns a software program designed to help people labeled severely mentally disabled quit smoking.

Let me indulge my own case of statistitis here.

While roughly one in five Americans smoke, rates are as high as 80 percent among people with severe mental illness.

Recent surveys have claimed 1 in 5 people have a mental illness. These surveys are misleading. They tend to deal with more minor than major problems. We talking acute, or temporary, and not chronic or lifelong problems. This is the mental health equivalent to blaming people in bodycasts on people who need bandaids. Patient advocacy groups begging for more government money for mental health service programs are wild about dredging this sort of thing up. When you look at the stats for people labeled with major mental illnesses the figures are closer to about 1 in every 20 people.

1 in 5 people smoke then while 4 in 5 people labeled with severe mental illness smoke…apparently.

In fact, the high prevalence of tobacco use in this population is thought to be one reason the mentally ill die an average 25 years sooner than the general population.

The main reason people in mental health treatment are dying as early as 25 years younger than the rest of the population is because the atypical neuroleptic drugs used to treat emotional disturbances cause a metabolic syndrome associated with a number of ill health conditions—obesity, diabetes, heart disease among other conditions. Psychiatrists and mental health workers, obscuring the fact that these conditions are iatrogenic in nature, have blamed the high mortality on unhealthy lifestyle issues such as poor diet and smoking. The fact that neuroleptic drugs, or as their etymological roots suggest, drugs that seize controll of the brain, may have something to do with these unhealthy lifestyles is something that is being swept under the rug.

Thresholds — a Chicago-based organization serving the mentally ill — has developed a web-based tool designed to motivate people with severe mental illness to quit smoking and make it easier for them to find smoking-cessation services.


Focusing on lifestyles issues is missing the fact that much of this high mortality rate is due to the drugs being used to treat people in the mental health/illness system. I’m not saying lifestyles changes wouldn’t help lower the mortality rate. I’m just saying we should be looking for methods of treatment that don’t involve the use of such powerful and harmful drugs, too. The drugs are the primary reason for this high mortality rate. The lifestyles issues are secondary, and they, in fact, at least in part, stem from the use of neuroleptic drugs.