Kansas adults with mental illness are more than twice as likely to smoke, according to a new study commissioned by the Kansas Health Foundation, a private Wichita-based philanthropy.
The study, conducted by nonprofit research institute RTI International, found that the number of adults with mental illness who smoke, about 38 percent, is more than twice that among adults without mental illness who smoke, about 17 percent. The study analyzed state-level data from national surveys conducted by groups including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
“We wanted to provide KHF with state-level data so they can further look into what the causes are and how to address them,” said Betty Brown, RTI research analyst. “We’ve seen similar data in national trends, but now we know the trends are mirrored in Kansas.”
The study defined mental illness as prolonged experience of a range of issues, including stress, depression and emotional problems, Brown said. If people experienced these issues for more than 14 days within the past month, they were said to have experienced mental health illness, she said.
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The rate was even higher among Kansas adults who had experienced serious mental illnesses in the past month. Nearly half of those adults smoked. Youths who reported mental illness were more than twice as likely to be smokers as youths without mental illness, according the study.
Brown said the most striking finding of the study is the connection between smoking, mental illness and poverty.
The number of adults with mental illness who smoke and have low incomes is about 40 percent, she said. Twenty-four percent of Kansas adults with mental illness live below the poverty level, according to the study.
Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death and disease in Kansas, and one out of five Kansas adults smoke cigarettes, according to the health foundation. Jeff Willett, vice president for programs, said one-third of cigarettes smoked by Kansans are smoked by people with mental health illnesses.
“This is an incredibly important health issue,” he said. “And most smokers want to quit.”
Sixty-five percent of Kansans with mental illness have tried to quit smoking in the past year, Willett said. Though they try to quit at a higher rate than smokers not being treated for a mental illness, many are unsuccessful, he said.
The difficulty may be attributed to issues associated with mental illness, Brown said.
“This is an entirely preventable situation,” Willett said. “Most people who try to quit smoking can benefit from more support and guidance from the health community. We’re trying to leverage off that fact and do what is necessary to ensure they can quit successfully when they try.”
This year, the KHF Fellows leadership initiative is focusing on tobacco use among those with mental illness. The program brought together 25 Kansas representatives, including patient advocates, consumers of mental health services in the state, clinicians, state agency representatives and members of the Tobacco Free Kansas Coalition.
The group will eventually present a list of recommendations to the foundation board for potential funding, Willett said.
“Any solutions for this issue are going to be complex and require support from a wide range of stakeholders,” he said. “That’s what we’ve brought together.
“It’s a discovery process. It’s working together to find out what we need to do.”