CHICAGO, Sept. 9 (UPI) -- Many doctors don't ask their patients with depression and anxiety to quit smoking fearing they will get worse, but that is a myth, a U.S. expert said.
Brian Hitsman, a tobacco addiction specialist at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said people with mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety are the heaviest smokers in the country.
Hitsman designed and published an evidence-based plan for psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health providers to help their patients quit smoking.
Between 40 percent to 80 percent of mentally ill people are daily smokers, compared with fewer than 20 percent of mentally healthy people, Hitsman said.
The mentally ill also smoke more cigarettes per day -- often up to two packs and have a disproportionately high rate of tobacco-related disease and mortality, such as cardiovascular disease or cancer.
Hitsman examined 13 randomized clinical trials that measured psychiatric symptoms during smoking cessation treatment and seven studies showed that psychiatric symptoms actually improved while patients were trying to kick the habit, while six showed no changes.
"Doctors erroneously believe mental disorders will worsen if they take away a person's tobacco," Hitsman said in a statement. "Not a single study shows that symptoms get worse."
The findings are published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry.